Medal of Honor recipient encourages TROY graduates to give back

Posted: Friday, 25 July 2014

TROY – Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and former prisoner of war Leo Thorsness on Friday encouraged Troy University graduates to strive to be their best in their chosen careers and to give more than they take.

More than 300 students representing 20 states and nine nations received degrees during the ceremony on Friday in Trojan Arena.

“Make the most of your career field,” Thorsness said. “Just always be sure to put back more than you take out.”

Thorsness, a retired Air Force colonel and combat pilot, recounted the importance communications played during his six years as a prisoner of war.

“For us, communication was critical for our survival,” he said, demonstrating for the audience a tapping code developed by he and his fellow prisoners of war that enabled them to communicate from cell to cell. “That code enabled us to communicate with one another and helped sustain us. I believe you will find that in all you do in life, whether in family or professional life, communication truly plays a critical role.”

Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on April 19, 1967 in the skies near Hanoi, Vietnam, flying his F105F into an enemy dogfight after destroying enemy surface-to-air missile sites. He would not learn of the medal until years later because 11 days after the mission, he was shot down, captured and imprisoned for six years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prisoner-of-war camp.

Following his military career, Col. Thorsness achieved success in business and public service and was later elected to the Washington State Senate. He and his wife, Gaylee, now reside in Madison, Ala.

Col. Leo Thorsness

Col. Leo Thorsness, U.S. Air Force ret., speaking during Summer Commencement at Troy University