John F. Thorson
May 10, 1920 - October 29, 1944
John F. Thorson, born in Armstrong, was a United States Army soldier and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration - the Medal of Honor - for his actions in World War II.
John F. Thorson
John Thorson was born May 10, 1920, in Armstrong of Norwegian ancestry. His Norwegian parents, John F. Thorson, Sr., and Anna Marie Opheim had moved to Armstrong in 1913, and had eight children. John, Jr., was the seventh born. He graduated from Armstrong High School in 1941 and helped his father farm until he entered the service the following year. A good athlete who stood 6'4," he played basketball in high school, and baseball the year his team won the state championship.
After induction in the Army in April 1942, in Des Moines, and basic training in California, John Thorson was initially stationed in the Aleutian Islands. He also served in other Pacific areas, including the Marshall Islands and Hawaii. While in Hawaii in training, his unit was reviewed by President Franklin Roosevelt. He was skilled in the use of automatic weapons.
By Oct. 28, 1944, was serving as a private first class in Company G, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. On that day, in Dagami, Leyte province, in the Philippines, Thorson was wounded while single-handedly attacking an enemy trench, then smothered the blast of an enemy-thrown hand grenade with his body. He successfully protected his fellow soldiers from the blast, but died of his injuries the next day. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor nine months later, on July 19, 1945.
Medal of Honor citation. Private First Class Thorson's official Medal of Honor citation reads:
"He was an automatic rifleman on 28 October 1944, in the attack on Dagami Leyte, Philippine Islands. A heavily fortified enemy position consisting of pillboxes and supporting trenches held up the advance of his company. His platoon was ordered to out-flank and neutralize the strongpoint. Voluntarily moving well out in front of his group, Pvt. Thorson came upon an enemy fire trench defended by several hostile riflemen and, disregarding the intense fire directed at him, attacked single-handed. He was seriously wounded and fell about six yards from the trench. Just as the remaining 20 members of the platoon reached him, one of the enemy threw a grenade into their midst. Shouting a warning and making a final effort, Pvt. Thorson rolled onto the grenade and smothered the explosion with his body. He was instantly killed, but his magnificent courage and supreme self-sacrifice prevented the injury and possible death of his comrades, and remain with them as a lasting inspiration."
After Thorson's death, General Douglas MacArthur wrote to his family: "In the death of your son, Private First Class John F. Thorson, you have my heartfelt sympahy. His service was characterized by his devotion to our beloved country, and in his death we have lost a gallant comrade-in-arms."
Thorson, aged 24 at his death, was buried in Keokuk National Cemetery, Keokuk.
The United States Army ship USAT Private John F. Thorson which served in the Pacific Ocean at the end of World War II was named in his honor.