The CHEERLEADER and the WAR HERO
On the anniversary of his birth, Valentine’s Day, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Col Leo Thorsness was given a hero’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
I thought about my last conversation with Col Leo, getting details for our monthly NBC Today Show Godwinks segment.
I had asked Leo about his retirement. He said, “Life is good in my 80s with a beautiful wife of more than 60 years, a gorgeous daughter and two granddaughters just 205 paces up the street … all believers in the Lord.”
Perhaps you remember the sweet story we told on NBC about this American hero through the eyes of a former 16 year old cheerleader who had PRAYED for him every day while he was being tortured as a Prisoner of War in Hanoi.
Jane’s heart wept when she heard about the Prisoner’s of War.
“I felt so bad that I couldn’t do anything for them,” she said.
When offered the opportunity to buy a $2.50 bracelet with the name of one of those POW’s on it, she jumped at it.
“My POW was Col. Leo Thorsness. And, from that day forward, Leo was like a member of my family. I wore his bracelet, and prayed for him daily. He went to cheerleading practice, to church, and to every football game.”
Eight thousand miles away from her hometown, Mount Pleasant, Texas … in a Hell hole derisively called the “Hanoi Hilton” … downed Air Force pilot Leo Thorsness was enduring a marathon of beatings and torture. His captors bent parts of his body that wouldn’t bend. They berated him repeatedly, claiming that Americans back home didn’t care; that they’d forgotten all about him.
Leo would later say that his only lifeline was his faith; he fiercely clenched it, believing he would indeed see his wife and child again. He just kept praying.
Two years after Jane Ellis slipped Leo’s bracelet onto her wrist, she saw on TV that he’d been released. He was coming home! Prayer had worked! She put away the bracelet in a keepsake box where it sit untouched for four decades.
But, God was not finished with Jane and Col. Thorsness nor the invisible threads that anonymously tethered them through prayer. There was an amazing Divine Alignment of Godwinks that was yet to occur.
Fast forward 40 years.
Jane didn’t really want to go to the Houston’s Astros game when friends offered tickets. But her husband John prevailed. “It’ll be fun,” he’d insisted.
The ballpark excitement, smell of popcorn, and the sound of the organ energizing the crowd, began to get Jane into the mood of the evening. From their high-up seats, they watched the huge Jumbotron Screen as an announcer introduced a VIP who would throw out the first pitch.
“Ladies and Gentlemen … Col. Leo Thorsness!”
“That’s my POW,” she shouted, literally jumping up and down. “I have to meet him. John, I have to go meet him!”
John raised his eyebrows and quietly reminded her that she was in a 53,000 seat stadium and Col. Thorsness would be seated in a highly secured area; the owner’s box.
“But, I just have to try,” she said, briskly vanishing into the crowds.
A half-hour later she returned. Her dejected face told John and their friends that she was unsuccessful.
“Every security guard stopped me. Most of them didn’t even know what a POW was,” she told them.
For the next several innings Jane silently spoke with God. “Lord, I really wanted to meet my hero Leo Thorsness.”
It was the 7th inning stretch … the organ played louder as a Godwink Link “just happened” to show up in their aisle. Of all the rows and aisles in that huge stadium, a perky young Astros marketing representative and her camera crew selected the woman sitting next to Jane to interview. They played a game, on camera, for the whole stadium to see.
The moment the cameras went off, Jane jumped up and quickly spilled out her story to the young marketing rep.
The young woman smiled, and said that her grandfather was a POW. Then she lifted the badge around her neck, and said, “Com’on, this can get us anywhere.”
Jane, with a resurgence of hope, followed her guide as she darted this way and that, all the way to the owner’s box. The Marketing Rep told the security guard the purpose of her mission, and watched him disappear into the secured area.
Moments later ... bounding up the steps ... was Col. Thorsness!
“You had my POW bracelet???’ he asked, incredulously.
“Yes, and I prayed for you every night,” Jane blurted, tears filling her eyes.
His look was pensive. “That was a terrible place. Most nights I couldn’t sleep. But on other nights ... I slept like a baby. Now I know why.”
Her voice cracked with emotion as she whispered, “You are my hero.”
He looked at her directly, swallowing hard, and said, “No. YOU are MY hero.”
They hugged one another, like old friends.
“That was my best godwink ever,” says Jane today. She serves as a Nurse Practitioner in Katy, Texas, and loves telling her story to anyone she encounters, underscoring, as her hero Leo did, the amazing power of prayer.
I invite you to see the wonderful tribute to Col Thorsness produced by Fox News Channel anchor John Scott. It’s very tender.
You may also like to watch our NBC Today Godwink story:
Good wishes for wondrous Godwinks.