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08/29/17 01:56 PM #227    

Laura Enos

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Carl Thorne-Thomsen

Brief life of a man of principle: 1946-1967



Carl Thorne-Thomsen in high school (with fellow student-council member Linda Jones Docherty)

Photograph from Lake Forest High School 1964 Yearbook/Courtesy of Linda Docherty


THE VIETNAM WAR era at Harvard is largely remembered as a time of resistance. In the late 1960s, students burned draft cards, occupied University Hall, and helped drive ROTC off campus. But before the anti-war movement became daily news in The Harvard Crimson, one undergraduate—Carl Thorne-Thomsen ’68—engaged in a personal and uncommon act of protest.


Those who knew him describe someone smart and athletic, enthusiastic and genuine, funny and at ease with himself and others. Though his humor often masked it, he also had a thoughtful side, writing in a high-school friend’s yearbook, “Perhaps I do not seem serious…but nonetheless I am.” Above all, Thorne-Thomsen possessed a sense of justice that led him to fight in a war he did not believe in.


The fourth of five children in a politically conscious family, he grew up north of Chicago. At Lake Forest High School, he earned academic honors, played the cello, and was a standout athlete. His best friend, Jim Kahle, recalls summers when “we would go sailing, swimming, and play wiffle ball during the day and at night engage in solving the world’s problems.” As student-council president, Thorne-Thomsen demonstrated his democratic values by working to eliminate a grade-point requirement for future officers.

At Harvard, the six-foot Midwesterner tried out for freshman crew and became one of two first-time oarsmen in the 1965 undefeated lightweight boat, rowing in the number-five seat. Teammate Chris Cutler remembers an exceptional athlete who “brought humor and joy to the boathouse.” Bill Braun adds, “Carl always wanted to do more than his fair share. You never had to look over your shoulder to see if he was pulling his oar.”

But the Dunster House resident had more on his mind than rowing. With the Vietnam War escalating, concern about the draft led students to forgo leaves of absence, join the Peace Corps, and apply to graduate school. According to the 1966 Harvard yearbook, many considered military service in the unpopular conflict to be a “waste of time” and “the work of a high-school dropout.”

Thorne-Thomsen saw it differently. He believed it was unjust for him to remain sheltered at Harvard while the government sent poorer, less well-educated young men to war. In late 1966, he told his friend Linda Jones (Docherty), who had served with him on student council, that he was thinking of leaving college; she recalls him saying, “Talk me out of it.” She couldn’t, nor could the few family members and friends in whom he confided. “He scorned that student deferment,” says his oldest brother, Leif. Thorne-Thomsen withdrew from Harvard in his junior spring and was drafted shortly thereafter. Rejecting the offer of a hiding place in Canada, and a safer post in the Pentagon, he told his father, “I have to do this.” His mother, who begged him not to go, wrote later that his decision exemplified “the qualities I loved most in him. He was perceptive, he hated unfairness, he was courageous, and he lived by his principles and acted on them despite personal consequences.”

Pfc. Thorne-Thomsen arrived in Vietnam on August 23, 1967, and quickly bonded with his unit—Alpha Company, Second Battalion, Twelfth Infantry. He wrote home that he was “glad to be in the infantry because of the lack of ‘pretension’ there.” Army buddies Charlie Page and John Stone knew him as friendly, quick-witted, articulate, and sensitive. Impressed by his abilities, Lt. Burnie Quick made him a radio operator, a vital but dangerous position.

Alpha Company operated out of Dau Tieng, between Saigon and the Cambodian border. A Vietcong supply route ran through the region, and the unit searched for and destroyed enemy bases, weapons, and food. On one mission, ordered to clear villages where the Vietcong had been hiding, it evacuated dozens of civilians, then burned down their homes. “It is justifiable in terms of winning the war,” Thorne-Thomsen wrote. “Now if we could only justify the war.”

On October 25, as Harvard students protested campus recruiting by napalm manufacturer Dow Chemical, undermanned Alpha Company trudged through dense jungle. Entering a clearing of tall elephant grass, the soldiers received fire from all sides. Thorne-Thomsen repeatedly exposed himself to maintain radio contact and facilitate the unit’s maneuvers, until a grenade exploded above him, killing him instantly. When reinforcements arrived two and a half hours later, four more men were dead, and about 30 wounded.

The Crimson did not report it, but Harvard responded to Thorne-Thomsen’s death. According to an Al Gore biography, “the news swept through [Dunster dining] room like a shock wave.” The varsity lightweight crew named a new racing shell in his honor. A 1968 yearbook essay, “The War Comes to Harvard,” opened by noting that “a junior who had left Harvard last year had been awarded the Bronze Star…posthumously ‘for heroism.’ ” One of only 22 men on Memorial Church’s Vietnam honor roll, Thorne-Thomsen also received a Bronze Star “for outstanding meritorious service.”

Fifty years later, his personal act of protest elicits admiration. Leif Thorne-Thomsen, who initially viewed his brother’s reasoning as crazy, now sees his choice as that of a “remarkable man.” Crew teammate Monk Terry observes, “[It] shows a lot more strength of character than the rest of us had.” Bill Comeau, a draftee from a poor family and Thorne-Thomsen’s predecessor as radio operator, regards him as a hero for “tak[ing] the risks and mak[ing] the sacrifices to right what he considered an injustice perpetrated on the underprivileged class.” Made without fanfare, Thorne-Thomsen’s decision to forsake self-interest for principle retains the power to inspire. 

Bonnie Docherty ’94, J.D. ’01, is a lecturer at Harvard Law School and the daughter of Thorne-Thomsen’s friend Linda Jones Docherty


08/30/17 08:30 AM #228    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

Laura Enos wrote...
Hi Everyone. The Class of 1964 Fund has been set up with the Lake Forest High School Foundation. Donations are tax deductible. You can go to the Foundation website to make a donation online. Please tell them this is for the Class of 1964 Fund and if you would like to donate in memory of someone. If you give them contact information they will notify the family of the person you are giving in memory of. I received from Susan Lindenmeyer Barron a wonderful article in the Harvard Magazine on Carl Thorne-Thompson. The article was written by Linda Jones's daughter. I will ask Beth to help me post the article. The 50th anniversary of Carl's death is coming up this October. Best, Laura

09/20/17 04:22 PM #229    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

Chicago Tribune
September 19, 2017


Commentary:  An Offering of Quiet Thanks to a Brave Stranger
By Cory Franklin

How can something that happened to a stranger 50 years ago and 10,000 miles away change your life forever? In October 1967, a tall, handsome 23-year-old U.S. Army private was killed during a fierce firefight along a Viet Cong supply route near the Cambodian border. And the selflessness and tragic death in Vietnam of Pfc. Carl Thorne-Thomsen, a man I never met, had an irrevocable effect on my life.

Carl did not have the standard resume of a Vietnam “grunt.” The inequity of the draft meant most soldiers came from poor or lower-middle class backgrounds, and were, at most, high school graduates or college dropouts. Carl hailed from a wealthy Lake Forest family — stellar student, star athlete, student council president and junior prom king at Lake Forest High School. He was accepted to Harvard in 1965 and joined the prestigious rowing team.

Carl wasn’t typical of his Harvard classmates, who included Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones. Harvard was then a hotbed of anti-war activity. The odor of burning draft cards wafted across campus, as students armed with draft deferments occupied university buildings, protesting ROTC and Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of napalm. While graduating students sought draft exemptions or decamped to Canada, the smoke from the draft cards was mixed with a faint air of condescension toward the less educated and less privileged forced to fight President Lyndon Johnson’s war. But Carl deeply felt the unfairness of America’s underclass being sent to Vietnam while he enjoyed a comfortable deferment at Harvard. In spring 1967, he withdrew from college and volunteered for the draft even though he disagreed with the conduct of the war. He declined his father’s offer to secure him a military post in Washington, D.C.

Going to Vietnam was his personal form of protest. Sent to Vietnam as part of Alpha Company, Second Battalion, 12th Infantry in August 1967, he connected immediately with his comrades, impressed by their lack of pretension. They admired his intelligence and sense of humor. One wrote on an Alpha Company website, “Even though I knew him for a short two months, he left an impression on me that has lasted a lifetime. I suppose he made an impression on everyone that knew him … I still found it hard to believe he is gone. Carl was one extraordinary guy.” Another called him our country’s “next JFK.” After two months in country, he became a radio operator during that ill-fated enemy ambush. Attempting to maintain radio contact and save his unit, he stepped out of the elephant grass, exposing his position — an easy target for an enemy grenade. He and four others were “tagged and bagged” — shipped home in body bags.

I did not know Carl Thorne-Thomsen. When he died, I was a high school freshman in Skokie, recovering from life-threatening peritonitis. But it turned out Carl and I did have a connection: Our fathers were close friends. When his coffin returned stateside, my father immediately went to Lake Forest to console his parents. Having participated in the first wave of the D-Day Normandy landing, my dad was intimately familiar with death in combat, and Carl’s death reawakened uncomfortable memories he had long suppressed.

Flash-forward two years, my junior year of high school. I had several college options: scholarship to a Midwestern university, admission to an Ivy League school or a combined undergraduate/medical school program. The medical school program offered something the other options did not — a six-year draft deferment. Never one to make demands of his children, my father was adamant in this case. I would go to medical school — no discussion, no debate. He simply recounted the story of his friend’s son. That is how I became a doctor.

He told me Carl’s mother and father never completely recovered from the ineffable sadness of losing their son. It forever cast a pall on their family. Despite this, they sent a touching note to Carl’s Alpha Company lieutenant, “Of all the letters we’ve received, including one from the president, yours has been the most meaningful … about the loss of our son Carl. I want you to know that our son wrote often of the bravery of the men of Alpha Company, and its leaders, its officers and non-commissioned officers … Carl said Alpha Company was the best company in Vietnam. Perhaps it’s best if we do not state our position on the war, but we would like to do something for the men of Alpha of whom Carl thought so highly.”

In Carl’s memory, they sent a color television set to Alpha.

One of Carl’s Alpha compatriots from an impoverished background told Harvard Magazine that he admired Carl for “taking the risks and making the sacrifices to right what he considered an injustice perpetrated on the underprivileged class.” A Harvard teammate looked back and admitted that Carl’s actions “showed a lot more strength of character than the rest of us had.”

When I visit Washington, D.C., today, I always visit two sites of great personal importance. The first is my father’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. The other is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where I dutifully seek out the engraved name of Carl Thorne-Thomsen to offer quiet thanks. The “stranger” was a principled American hero who affected my future profoundly.

Dr. Cory Franklin lives in Wilmette.


10/26/17 09:15 AM #230    

Skip Justice

Beth:   Can you tell me what time the Assembly will be on Friday Nov 11, 2017 for Carl.   I would

like to attend.



Skip Justice

10/26/17 09:15 AM #231    

Skip Justice

Beth    Nov 10th   sorry

10/27/17 09:13 AM #232    


Cynthia Willey (Lempert)

Yes, Beth, what time?  There's a chance I might come, too.  I feel just sick all over again about Carl.  Cynthia

10/27/17 01:10 PM #233    


Thomas Boese

Hi,  I checked with the high school and was told that the assembly would run from 12:55 until 1:40 on the 10th.

10/28/17 07:55 AM #234    


Cynthia Willey (Lempert)

Thanks, Tom.

10/28/17 10:44 AM #235    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

Thanks, Tom.  I will be there in spirit.

04/12/18 05:52 PM #236    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

Today was a terrific mini-reunion in Hancock, Maryland, with Beth Shoulberg (Johnson), Kathy Karsten (Rushing), Margaret Klein (Breen) and Carroll Wetzel (Wilkinson).  We are extending the announcement that it is time for our classmates to update their profile pages, in anticipation of our 55th H.S. reunion...
which is right around the corner. 

Furthermore, WHO is interested in organizing it???


04/13/18 03:32 PM #237    


Tim Feemster (Feemster)

This looks like a great committee.  Sign them up.

04/14/18 10:18 AM #238    

Skip Justice

Sounds like a great team.   All the best.


05/30/18 12:56 PM #239    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

I just saw this 1968 Lake Forest/Lake Bluff telephone Directory on Facebook. Fun to see so many familiar names!


05/31/18 10:36 AM #240    


Tim Feemster (Feemster)

You are right, it is fun to see the names.  Not sure I can put faces to them any more but cool.

08/15/18 11:22 PM #241    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

It has been a real joy to be with Betsy Wentworth for more than four weeks this summer.  She has rented a cabin near us in Cable, Wisconsin.  Betsy departs tomorrow morning for her home in Lebanon, TN.  Farewell, Betsy.... we will see you again next summer!

11/28/18 02:36 PM #242    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

Carey Smith just sent me these pictures from an LFHS guys' annual reunion.  This summer a group of our classmates met at Mickey Johnston's place overlooking the ocean, in Halifax NS.

Back row: Bob Watt, Tom Boese, Jim Kahle, Chip Webster
Front row: Mickey Johnston, Ron Boggs, Carey Smith, Tom O'Bierne, Mike Hall

View from Mickey's house

Relaxing at the yacht club


05/10/19 08:50 PM #243    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

RE: Candy Thompson Meade

Beth, I am sending you this in response to your request for updates. Candace has health problems that have made it difficult for her to operate her computer, phone etc. I read her the sad news about Betsy and your warm Lake Bluff recollections which she appreciated. Her Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) condition was initially misdiagnosed as Alzheimer so the eventual treatment came very late. Candace has slowly improved over the last year mostly in learning to walk again. When she is able, Candace and her granddaughter will work on a brief update. They work together on this. NPH is something we should be aware of as we age. Here is a link with some info:

Sincerely, Roger Meade


06/26/19 03:09 PM #244    


Tom Jewell

Jim Johnston contacted me today and asked me to post the following message for him.

My partner and best friend who graduated in the  LFHS Class of '60, passed away on June 18 at Richland Heart Hospital Columbia SC.  Lynne E Smith. White. She has been with me down here since day before Thanksgiving 2001. My email is and my home phone 803-345-3400. Please contact me should you have any questions. See you all on September 20, 2019. Thank you, Jim

06/27/19 10:09 AM #245    

Skip Justice

Sorry to hear.


06/27/19 10:47 AM #246    


Tim Feemster (Feemster)

Very sorry for your loss.  It will be good to catch up in September.  I am really looking forward to it.

07/01/19 11:30 AM #247    

David Terlap

Need 3 more golfers, they do not allow 5 somes at L.B.

07/02/19 12:28 AM #248    


Tim Feemster (Feemster)

Is golf on Friday or Saturday?

07/02/19 12:27 PM #249    

David Terlap

Fri. Noon. L
ake Bluff.

07/02/19 01:15 PM #250    


Beth Shoulberg (Johnson)

This message is from Tom Jewell:
"I accidentally omitted some people in the first announcement about Roger Spaner. This is what I should have sent the first time: Roger Spaner (Dec 15, 1946 to June 27, 2019), died peacefully of cancer in Stockholm Sweden with his daughters and wife by his side. He is survived by two daughters by his first wife, Amanda Spaner Akerman and Hanna Spaner Tengby, his second wife, Fatima, his ex-wife, Pia, and four grandchildren. When I have more information or the official obituary, I will add it to Roger's In Memory page."


07/12/19 06:21 PM #251    


Tom Jewell

On Roger's In Memory page, I have posted more details about his funeral service with a link to a website where you can leave a message and take other actions to express your sympathy that the family will receive.

Tom Jewell

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