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Sampson: Remembering John Thorson

January 4, 2013
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville Daily News

Take a look at Orville Sampson's copy of his confirmation picture and this is what you see.

Young people, hair and clothes dated (the photo was taken in the 1930s), locked in the grip of the Great Depression. Maybe it was the Depression, maybe it was the presence of Rev. Boade in the middle of the front row, maybe it was the times. Whatever it was, there weren't too many smiles on the confirmands' faces.

Scan to the middle row and look at the last young man on the right and you see rigid intensity. His name is John Thorson. The same John Thorson who would throw his body on a grenade just a few years later to save his comrades and posthumously receive the Medal of Honor.

Article Photos

Sampson’s sister, Wilma Nelsen, is on the far left in the front row. Sampson is third from the left in the back row. John Thorson is the second from the far right in the middle row. Also killed in action in World War II were young Weiby, back row, far left, and Elmer Anderson, second from the right in the back row.

Tragically, Thorson was one of three in his confirmation class photo not to return from war. The others were young Weiby and Elmer Anderson.

Orville met John when both of them were about 11. They played sports and went tobogganing together a couple miles south of Armstrong on the bluffs of the Des Moines River east fork.

"He was a pretty honorable man," Orville recalls of John. "He was a good athlete." Orville said John played basketball and baseball.

While Orville went to school in Ringsted and John in Armstrong, they shared the same church, Immanuel Lutheran in Armstrong. Even back then, Orville knew John had a lot of character.

"He would do anything for anybody. He was like that all of his life."

Orville had a heart murmur, so when the callup came during World War II, he got a deferment. While John went to war, Orville went to St. Paul, Minn. where he worked building a defense plant that was never used.

Orville was stunned when he heard that John had been killed in the Pacific, about as far away from home as you could get. "I was pretty sad about that," Orville said.

He wasn't shocked though when he learned that John had received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

"It didn't surprise me. Not at all. Anybody that did what he did should have the highest honor for sacrificing his own life."

Orville recalled that a cargo ship was built with John's name on it. The 388-foot ship was later destroyed, for reasons unknown.

And that was how the once-hardworking farm boy who never got into trouble entered the eternal annals of heroism.

"I think he always had a good name for himself," Orville said.



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