By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Each year the Medal of Honor Convention brings together our nation’s highest military heroes. This week, the Twin Cities is hosting the recipients and their families, including Col. Leo Thorsness.

On Thursday morning his hometown of Walnut Grove honored him with a park dedication in his name. Thorsness is the only living Medal of Honor recipient from Minnesota.

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Thorsness calls the Medal of Honor a heavy one to wear.

“I wear it for everybody,” he said. “I happen to be the one that did a good job that day and was recognized.”

It was Vietnam April 1967: the Air Force fighter pilot’s wingman was shot down during a missle attack. He circled to keep the parachuting crewmembers in sight and safe, shot down numerous enemy planes and returned to a hostile area despite being critically low on fuel.

“You don’t leave anybody behind that’s just a creed, a thing we believe in the military,” Thorsness said.

Days after that heroic act, his plane was shot down and Thorsness became a POW.

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“Torture was brutal, some people died in torture, at times I prayed I could,” Thorsness said.

The heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery of Thorsness earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was awarded during his captivity, and announced upon his release after 6 years.

“Every time I put that on, I remember the day I got it and I remember, people who didn’t make it, I think about people who died in prison, died in combat,” Thorsness said.

He learned the full meaning of the word Freedom. Throughout his life, Thorsness has remained committed to sharing Medal of Honor values with students, as he did in his hometown of Walnut Grove.

“Make sure you take time for friends, your family, your faith and your fun. The other thing is three words: do what’s right,” Thorsness said.

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Fewer than 3,500 Americans have earned the Medal of Honor. 72 of them are Minnesotans.

Jennifer Mayerle