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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2008
Leo Thorsness is one of only five living United States Air Force Medal of Honor Recipients. He is one of our nation's greatest heroes. "Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey" is his compelling memoir which makes us all appreciate our freedom. Leo writes with passion. He very realistically articulates the horrors of war and imprisonment. "Surviving Hell" teaches us important lessons, including how very fortunate we are. Recommend the book most highly.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2009
I have known Leo Thorsness for several years and cannot imagine ever again having the great good fortune and high honor of meeting anyone with the character of extraordinary integrity, modesty, and fortitude that he has so devotedly given his family and country! Leo's marvelous book, SURVIVING HELL, reminds me of why I think every day of my own schoolboy friend, "Nugie" Grubb, the return of whose tortured remains were eventually the very first notice to his family, his parents and wife Evie and 4 very young sons, in 1973, only learning after 7 years of silent, patient, and hopeful waiting, that the North Vietnamese had tortured and killed him very early in his January 1966 captivity. The other extraordinary heroes in these stories - like Gaylee Thorsness and their daughter Dawn, and too many other POW families - are chronicled in the collaborative efforts of the late Evie Grubb and Carol Jose in their book, YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN regarding the desperate struggles in their search for information and truth from the North Vietnamese and OUR government, through The National League of POW Families. Leo's book should be a clarion wake up call to all of us, that we will NEVER again allow this to happen to the men and women of our military, and/or their families! None of ALL that I have read over the years, have impacted me as has Leo's humble courage in recalling for US this example of "man's inhumanity to man"! With Sincere & Respectful admiration...and Gratitude!
Bless Them ALL!
Bud Farrell, Korean War B-29 Gunner, Author NO SWEAT (An Amazon listed book)
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2009
This is a short quick to the point book. It holds your intrest about a Medal of honor winner an a great american. It suprises you with its humor. Thank you Leo we are all in your debt. Viet Nam veteran
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2009
Roy Thompson the British Press Lord once said, "What makes a hero truly great is that they never despair." Such a man is Leo Thorsness, a former Air Force fighter pilot who endured six long years of constant torture and mind numbing boredom with unflinching courage and gritty determination. The experiences of this remarkable man are chronicled in his recently published book, Surviving Hell, A POW's Journey.

On April 19, 1967, Thorsness secured a place in Air Force history when he and his backseater, Harry Johnson, came to the rescue of a fellow F-105 crew who had been shot down by a MIG and were encircled by four or five more MIGs as they dangled in their parachutes. In the ensuing battle, Thorsness shot down two of the MIGs and then, in a courageous act of sheer bluff, drove the remainder away even though he was out of ammo. Years later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Meanwhile, he and Johnson needed just twelve more missions to reach the magic number of one hundred, which would allow them to return home. But it was not to be. Less than two weeks later, Thorsness and Johnson were shot down while attacking a SAM site in North Vietnam and were subsequently taken prisoner.

Like many downed American airmen, Thorsness was badly injured during his high speed ejection. Severe damage to both knees plus back injuries made it virtually impossible to walk when he was captured. But this seemed to matter little to his captors who kicked, beat, and half dragged him through the long journey to Hoa Lo prison, otherwise known as the Hanoi Hilton. It was there that his journey through hell truly began.

Many of the details of his POW life I had read in other books. I was familiar with the tap code, the way POWs communicated with each other without speaking; and had read several descriptions of the filth, disease, inhumane living conditions; and of course, the brutal torture the North Vietnamese subjected their prisoners to every day of their lives. What impressed me about this book, however, is how simply and elegantly Thorsness tells his story. Surviving Hell is a sparse 127 pages, yet in it he manages to describe his experience in rich detail, naming names when appropriate, defining unfamiliar terms when necessary and providing vivid descriptions of the things he saw and did as a POW. At the same time, he did not dwell on the details of his torture nor was he judgmental of his fellow prisoners. Instead, his focus seemed to be on explaining how he managed to maintain his dignity and his sanity during his ordeal, especially during long periods of solitary confinement.

Surviving Hell was released in December 2008. Ironically, this is the same month that Jane Fonda, the actress turned antiwar protestor who once famously declared that American POWs were being treated humanely, was inducted into the California Museum's Hall of Fame. Readers will no doubt draw their own conclusions about this coincidence.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2009
. Surviving Hell: A POWs Journey is a beautifully constructed set of twenty-two chapters written as short essays. It weaves Leo's life before, after and during his imprisoned six years including a full solitary year in a tiny cell. It is an unforgettable story about why hundreds of Americans survived because of their faith, their families, their courage, their love of freedom in America. It relates the sad stories of some of the twenty percent of American POWs who could not survive the Middle Ages torture and cruelty of the North Vietnamese guards.

. No previous book about American POWs has described so well the strategies those remarkable men used in their daily effort to maintain their humanity and about their refusal to be stripped of their basic dignity through brutal and cruel torture. Americas North Vietnam POWs endured the longest wartime captivity of any POWs in United States history. This is a book impossible to put aside once your reading begins. It is an historically accurate description of experiences resembling Hell at its worst. I am privileged to have flown with Leo Thorsness and been friends with Gaylee and Leo for forty years.
No one has served America with more courage or distinction. His Medal of Honor tells only part of his remarkable life story.

Bob Krone, Ph.D., Colonel, USAF (Ret)
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 2008
If you are patriotic, if you admire those who flew the tough missions over North Vietnam, if you want to get inside the cockpit of a fighter pilot who earned the Medal of Honor, if you want understand what our aviators faced while POWs, this is the book for you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2009
This book is a tribute to one of the most marvelous men who ever graced this earth and who touched my life in in a personal way.
In his story, Col Thorsness, (Leo to those who had the honor to have been stationed in Takhli with him), related how he not only served with valor and without regard to his own safety, actions which earned him the coveted Congressional Medal of Honor, but how he survived under the most horrendous of circumsances. As you read his account of captivity, you are drawn into the realities of his circumstances as he describes in riveting detail the trials he faced and the creativity of his and his fellow prisoners' survival instinces. You cannot help but revel in his partiotism and his profound love of God and country.
I was privileged to serve with Leo as his Flight Medical Officer and I knew him from the flight lines and the Officers' Club. Whenever I spoke with him upon his return from combat missions I'd marvel when he would refer to his mission, a mission when he was under attack, as "just another day at the job." I recall the pall that come over the squadron when it was reported that his plan was "hit" and the renewed hope when we heard he and his "gib" successfully "punched out." We were sad to know that he was captured but knew that he had what it took to survive.
What happened during that captivity is enshrined in this book, one that should be required reading for every patriot to remind him that his pride in this country is well-placed, and for all others to show them that if it were not for heroes such as Leo, they would not have the liberty to protest as they do. Leo knew that when, in chapter 12, he considered himself, a captive, more free than his captors who lived under a system controlled by a brutal government. This book is a "must read" for all Americans.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2009
Finished this exciting brief book in almost one sitting. I'm completely blown away by the character of POWs like Lt. Col Thorsness, Col Bud Day and even Sen. McCain. I mean leave the patriotic feelings and military duty out of this, the resilience and endurance of these people is really interesting and amazing. It's a life story, a guide to be stronger & a wonderful insight into the lives of these heroes. This book must be read by every young man and woman in America (or even Canada or other western countries for that matter as the meaning of courage and bravery is fading away from our midst). Having read some of Hanoi Hilton's graduates' memoirs/books and it is accurate to say that by far this book has been the greatest one. It's witty, funny and sometimes very sad and horrifying. It will make you laugh hard at times and the next sentence it will make you feel upset, enraged and horrified. All the time I was reading this book, I kept asking myself what I would do if it were me instead of Leo Thorsness in the infamous Hanoi Hilton? I constantly compared myself with these POWs and found out how small I am (emotionally and morally) compared to them when it comes to hardships and difficult times, even though I have had a pretty $hitty life experience myself but it is pale compared to theirs. Probably, I really don't know what a bad day means/is like. Thank you LTC Leo Thorsness for your service and thank you for sharing your story with the rest of us.

American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day

Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2009
Leo Thorsness and I became friends in graduate school in the mid-60's. I sensed he was a man of honor and integrity. The true character and mettle of a person is not really known until they are tested. As POWs in the Hanoi Hilton, Leo and his comrades were tested, and tested, and tested. My initial assessment of Leo has been validated beyond measure. "Surviving Hell" is a gripping story of true American heroes.

Peter A. Land, MS, CSP, CMC, CPCM.
Colonel USAF Retired
Former Vietnam Combat Pilot
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2009
Read this book and you will learn why those of us who flew with Leo Thorsness honor Leo, and his fellow prisoners of war, as our true heroes. This factual, concise, and very personal account of the atrocities of inhumane torture, and of the amazing resilience of true Americans, speaks well of those who risked all for our nation. What has made America great? What kind of dedication and bravery must we have to retain that greatness? Those questions are answered within the chapters of Surviving Hell."
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