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Decorated POW visits

Medal of Honor recipient speaks to Golden Valley High School students

Posted: February 10, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 10, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Retired Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness wears his Medal of Honor as he speaks to the hundreds of Golden Valley High School students gathered in the school auditorium on Friday. (Dan Watson/The Signal)

U.S. Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness was held as a prisoner of war for six years in North Vietnam and spent much of the first three years enduring torture sessions bracketed by extensive stints in solitary confinement.

And through it all, he solidified the mantra that he shared with more than 400 students at Golden Valley High School on Friday morning: “Do what’s right; help others.”

Thorsness, 81, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in the skies above Vietnam and is one of only 79 living medal recipients.

Thorsness flew 92 successful missions in all, but he was forced to eject from his plane midway into his 93rd. He injured both of his legs in the ejection and was captured by members of the North Vietnamese military.

In the large cell in Vietnam where he was held, he measured the distance around the confined area with the drawstring of his pants. Doing some calculations, he found that if he walked 10 miles a day while pacing in his cell, it would take him a bit more than three years to walk 10,000 miles — the distance from Vietnam back to the United States.

“And I knew that if I could reach that, if I could walk that far, that eventually I would make it back home,” Thorsness said.

Thorsness was released from captivity in 1973, at which point he retired from the Air Force.

As with his own journey, Thorsness urged students, teachers and officials from the William S. Hart Union High School District, they should always push to take the steps to grow and advance in their own lives.

And the biggest step, he said, is to always make the effort to serve others.

“Whatever job you end up doing, do it well,” Thorsness said. “And strive to give more back to your country than you take out of it.”

Loni Pennay, an English teacher and intervention coordinator at Golden Valley High School, said the school leapt at the opportunity to have Thorsness speak there.

The students who attended the event were given background information in advance on both the Medal of Honor and the speaker himself, Pennay said.

Pennay said she expects Thorsness’ message will resonate with the students who attended.


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