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Review on Born a Soldier, The Times and Life of Larry Thorne by J. Michael Cleverley


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Born a Soldier: The Times and Life of Larry Thorne by J. Michael Cleverley

The European armies of WWII were a mix of nationalities. Poles and Frenchmen fled to England to continue the fight against Germany. Nationals from many of the European countries could be found fighting in the German army. There are instances of Estonians being pressed into service in the German or Russian armies, only to escape, flee to Finland, and join the Finnish army during the war.  But the fascination with Larry Thorne is not only that he fought as a soldier in 3 different armies during his lifetime, but that he dedicated his life to a cause that followed him from his earliest years tending horses in the Finnish army to his years serving in the U.S. Army Special Forces in Viet Nam. 

The story of Larry Thorne (Lauri Törni) has been written in Finnish and translated into English in numerous periodicals and books prior to Michael Cleverley’s excellent book. But Michael Cleverley has taken the story of Törni and developed it one step further within the context of a world at war in the 20th century.  The result is fascinating to read and would be enjoyed by serious historians as well as those of us who are novices at mid-20th century European politics and war history. Not only has the book received top reviews in Finland and in the rest of Europe, but it is quickly closing ranks with some of the more popular books in both Finnish and English regarding the life of Larry Thorne and the heroic Finnish people’s defense of their country during WWII.  

In order to explain the actions and decisions made by Thorne in relation to the events taking place around him, the author embarked on an ambitious investigation of Finnish army documents, past interviews, letters, and conducted personal interviews with people who knew Thorne in Finland, after arriving in the U.S., and in the U.S Army during his years as a Special Forces soldier.  The book includes a time-line of Thorne’s life as well as a good set of pictures, maps, and documents detailing the awards issued to Thorne in all 3 services in which he served, the Finnish Army, German Army and the U.S.Army. 

The book begins with the political situation in Finland just prior to WWII, and quickly wraps itself around a young Larry Thorne who is serving in his first year of service in the Finnish Army.  Thorne quickly establishes himself as an able soldier during the Winter War and is picked to participate in Waffen SS training in Germany after the Finnish/Russian armistice. When the Continuation War begins, Thorne returns to Finland where he will be involved in battle for the next three years.  During his almost five years of combat in both the Finnish and German armies, Thorne’s exploits would win him Finland’s highest recognition, the Mannerheim Cross, and hero status among soldiers and civilians alike.  Being a hero wouldn’t save him from prison after the war, and Thorne eventually escapes the harsh political realities of postwar Finland and, in a fascinating story that seems like it was written for James Bond, eventually swims ashore on a beach in Alabama. His story continues to amaze as Congress passes a special law to give Thorne legal status in the U.S. and he quickly uses this to join the U.S. Army where he then served with valor and distinction.

I found the book to be a fascinating story told in a unique manner reflecting the author’s experience in foreign service and knowledge of European history.  The legend of Larry Thorne is one of courage and honor,  and should be required reading for anyone interested in Finnish / Russian war history, as well as the history of the U.S. Special Forces.    

Marshall Kregel

Webmaster www.KevOs4.com – Finnish Wartime History website

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