SD Vietnam War Memorial Dedication Please Support the Memorial Soldiers, Heroes, and teachers information



In Memory of U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant

Josef Lloyd Thorne

Brookings, South Dakota, Brookings County

 November 17, 1940 – April 19, 1965
Killed in Action in Vietnam

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. Josef worked in construction during breaks from school and helped build Interstate 29. 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, Travis.

When Josef graduated from South Dakota State University, he had an Army commission as a second lieutenant and was part of the Army Reserves Officers Training Corps. On September 18, 1963, he was assigned to active duty with the U.S. Army. He was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to receive training. He went on to receive additional training to become a pilot at Fort Watters, Texas, and Fort Rucker, Alabama. Lieutenant Thorne was sent overseas to Vietnam in November of 1964 for a one-year tour of duty. He was stationed at Phan Thiet and served with the 145th Aviator Airlift Platoon. Lt. Thorne was originally assigned to fly mail but instead volunteered to fly assault helicopters. He said he “wanted to be in the game.” He then served as commander of a UH-1B helicopter. 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.

Lieutenant Thorne was given an assignment to fly a combat mission in the region near Qui Nhon, Vietnam He was flying a Huey helicopter near another plane when the enemy began to fire on them from the ground. Both planes soon crashed, the Huey helicopter exploded on the coastal plain when it hit the ground. Nine men were killed in all, Lieutenant Josef Thorne among them. He became the first South Dakotan to die in the Vietnam War, just 41 days after the first combat forces arrive in Vietnam. Family and friends say that they believe Josef knew that he would not return from Vietnam.

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.

For his Vietnam service, Lt. Josef Thorne received many medals and has the 21st place on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. He is survived by his parents, Melvin Thorne and Mary Jane Thorne, his sisters, Jeanne Weiland, and Julie Larson, and his brothers, Tim, Tracy, and Roy, as well as his widow, Diane and his son, Travis.

Because he was one of the earliest casualties of the Vietnam War, Josef Thorne’s death really 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 also mentioned in two of Tom Brokaw’s books ; he is also featured in several other publications. And as was printed in a tribute to him, “He was a special guy, with a competitive spirit that never waned.” In fact, there is a memorial football scholarship in his name at SDSU.

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

Josef Thorne with his SDSU Coach, Ralph Ginn

This entry was respectfully submitted by April G. Goodson, 10th Grade, Spearfish High School, Spearfish, South Dakota, October 10, 2005. Information for this entry was provided by Mary Jane Thorne and the Beresford Republic.


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