This coming Tuesday is the official publication date of the paperback edition of Leo Thorsness’s Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey with a new introduction that I contributed to the book. The book is available from Amazon now and maybe even in a bookstore near you as well.
The book is a memoir recalling the Medal of Honor mission that Colonel Thorsness flew as an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War and the six years he spent as a prisoner of war in a Hanoi hellhole. Leo is one of the eight former Vietnam War prisoners of war to have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Four of the eight received the medal posthumously. The citations of all eight are compiled here. Please check them out.
Among the eight are George E. “Bud” Day and the late James Stockdale. Day’s story is told in Robert Coram’s excellent American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day. Admiral Stockdale told his story with (his wife) Sybil Stockdale in In Love and War. Their stories almost defy belief.
When I met Colonel Thorsness in 2008 I knew virtually nothing of his story or those of his fellow POWs and Medal of Honor recipients. Day and Thorsness are with us (as is Jon Cavaiani) and have their stories on offer to anyone willing to listen. In a Wall Street Journal Memorial Day column a few years ago, Peter Collier made the essential point:
We impoverish ourselves by shunting these heroes and their experiences to the back pages of our national consciousness. Their stories are not just boys’ adventure tales writ large. They are a kind of moral instruction. They remind of something we’ve heard many times before but is worth repeating on a wartime Memorial Day when we’re uncertain about what we celebrate. We’re the land of the free for one reason only: We’re also the home of the brave.
In 2004 the University of Richmond announced the establishment of an endowed chair in leadership and ethics named in honor of Thorsness and his wife. The Colonel Leo K. and Gaylee Thorsness Endowed Chair in Ethical Leadership was funded by a $1,000,000 gift organized by W. Thomas Matthews, former president and chief executive officer of the global private client group at Smith Barney. It makes me think that we can find additional ways to honor these men and bring their stories to the attention of our fellow citizens.