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First Lieutenant, Field Artillery, Aviator
145th Flight Platoon (pre-281st)
From: Brookings, South Dakota
Date of birth: November 17, 1940
Killed in Action on April 19, 1965
Shot down in Helicopter UH-1B 63-08632

1stAB Army Aviator

1stAB ribbons

Josef Thorne with his
SDSU Coach, Ralph Ginn

Josef Lloyd Thorne was born on November 17, 1940, to Melvin and Mary Jane Thorne, in International Falls, Minnesota. Josef had two sisters, Jeanne and Julie, and three brothers, Tim, Tracy, and Roy. The family soon moved to Brookings, South Dakota, and then later to Gettysburg and then to Beresford, where Josef graduated from high school in 1958. He had many interests, some of which included horses and church. He played trombone in a band and loved sports during high school. His love for football continued during his college years at South Dakota State University. He graduated from SDSU with a degree in civil engineering in 1963 and also was drafted to play professional football. He was once called “one of the alltime great football stars in South Dakota’s history.” Josef married his wife, Diane, on July 15, 1961, in Clear Lake, South Dakota, and they had son named Travis.

When Josef graduated from South Dakota State University, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and called to active duty with the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he received his initial training. He went on to receive additional training at Fort Wolters, Texas, and Fort Rucker, Alabama. He was initially stationed at Phan Thiet, South Vietnam and served with the 145th Airlift Platoon. A few days after arriving in Vietnam, he wrote a letter to his parents, saying:

Yesterday I flew four hours and fifty-five minutes and today I flew five hours and fifty minutes. We flew out at 01:03 both yesterday and today. I’ll say one thing. It isn’t as bad over here as people would believe. I’m going to be real careful and keep my mind on what I’m doing and shouldn’t have any problems.

On April 19, 1965 Lieutenant Thorne was given the assignment to fly a combat mission in the region near Qui Nhon, Vietnam. He was flying a “Huey” helicopter gun ship near another aircraft when the enemy began to fire on them from the ground. Both helicopters were shot down. His helicopter exploded on the coastal plain when it hit the ground. Nine men were killed in all, Lieutenant Josef Thorne among them. Forty-One days after the first combat forces arrived in Vietnam he became the first South Dakotan to die in the War. Family and friends say that they believe Josef knew that he would not return from Vietnam. The detailed aircraft loss report is shown on WO Daniel Bishop’s Web Page.

His body was returned to the United States and his funeral service was held at the Doner Auditorium at SDSU with an attendance of over 800 people. He was buried with military honors at Greenwood Cemetery in Brookings.

Because he was one of the earliest casualties of the Vietnam War, Josef Thorne’s death stood out. As Senator McGovern stated for the Congressional Record: “He was a hero to thousands of South Dakota schoolboys. His death brings the war in Vietnam closer to the heart of every South Dakota citizens.” Josef is mentioned in two of Tom Brokaw’s books and he is also featured in several other publications. A tribute to him stated; “he was a special guy, with a competitive spirit that never waned.” There is a memorial football scholarship in his name at SDSU.

The Governor of the State of South Dakota, Nils Boe, said of Josef: “No one could have known Joe and not have been better because of the acquaintance."

Lt. Josef Thorne holds the 21st place on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.



Huey Sunset

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