Arlington Cemetery is full of stories. There are over 320,000 people buried there and you cannot help but be moved by a visit. Sometimes you ask a question and you get an answer totally different from what you expected. That is how I found out about Larry Thorne.
I was preparing to do a tour for a group of Finnish people. I knew there was a grave near the Kennedy gravesite for Konstant Niemi which listed his place of birth (rather than one of the United States) as “Finland”. I wanted to know more about him. So, one day, I typed in “Finns buried in Arlington Cemetery” into google search. I never found out anything about Niemi, but this amazing story about Larry Thorne came up. He is known as the only soldier buried in Arlington who fought for 3 different countries.
Larry Thorne, who anglicized his name when he immigrated to the US, was born Lori Torni in Viipuri, Finland, on May 28, 1919. During World War II, he fought for the Finns against Russia, when the Finns invaded the Finnish province of Karelia. Viipuri is part of Karelia. He enlisted in 1938. Larry Thorne lost his home—as did many Finns--when the province of Karelia was eaten up by the Russians at the end of the Winter War (you know, the one where the Finns fought on skis). There was massive population displacement as all the Finns fled to Finland rather than be absorbed into Russia. It's a sore point in Finland to this day. Viipuri, by the way, is now known as Vyborg. Finns visit it to touch base with where their ancestors lived with great sadness.
Larry Thorne fought the Russians in the Winter War, initially as an enlisted man. He was such a good soldier that he was eventually commissioned a lieutenant. He continued to fight the Russians in what the Finns call the Continuation War from 1941-1944 with the Waffen SS. Finland, by the way, ended up on the German side in World War II. They didn’t much like the Germans, but they disliked the Russians more.
At the end of World War II, Thorne had a difficult time. He was incarcerated for joining the Germans, but was pardoned in 1946. The Finns had a difficult time sort of dealing with war guilt after it was over, but, they shouldn’t have blamed themselves. There are currently just a little over 5.2 million Finns. How could they fight either Russia or Germany and win? They have repeatedly been squeezed between major powers. Their survival is a heroic story. So is the story of their language—which is viewed as distantly related to Mongolian.
Thorne found post war work eventually as a seaman, but, in 1953, jumped ship and immigrated to he US landing in New York City. In 1954 he enlisted in the US Army—a path followed by other Finnish officers who fought for the Germans in the Continuation War. In 1960 he became a Captain in the US Army despite difficulties with the English language which dogged him throughout his time in the US. He joined the Special Forces and was regarded as a soldier’s soldier. Then came the Vietnam War and Thorne was sent to Vietnam. On October 18, 1965, he left for a clandestine mission in Laos. He never returned, but it was known that he had perished because the remains of the helicopter in which he had been a passenger were found.
In 1999 Larry Thorne’s body was at long last buried in Arlington Cemetery together with some South Vietnamese soldiers who died with him. The remains were scant and the families chose to mingle them together in the grave just as they had perished. That’s why the tombstone is larger. Thorne is buried in Section 60, grave number 8136. He was laid to rest on June 26, 2003. He received a posthumous promotion to major.
Before doing my tour with the Finns, I went to visit Thorne’s tombstone to see if there was any way I could do the site in the tour. I couldn’t because there was insufficient time. I pointed out Niemi’s grave as we walked up to see the Kennedy brothers. When I started to speak about Thorne, they all said, “Oh, Lori Torni.” They all knew the story.
Thorne’s name is on panel 2E of the Vietnam Wall. The people in the tour group photographed it.
Who knew? And who else is buried in Arlington Cemetery who we have forgotten? In Finland, Thorne was once voted #52 in a survey of the most famous Finns. He fought for three countries and found his resting place among Arlington’s many heros.