Local veteran featured in Wal-Mart TV commercial

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2002

&uot;It was quite an honor to be picked,&uot; said John Thorson of Albert Lea, who is featured in new Wal-Mart television commercials for the &uot;Band of Brothers&uot; film.

This film, in both video and DVD versions, is scheduled for release on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at Wal-Mart stores across the nation. Thorson was selected to represent World War II veterans whose actions in Europe during 1944-45 are depicted in the HBO film produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

Thorson said he went to a Wal-Mart store in Apple Valley on Sept. 25 to work with the Burnstein-Rein Advertising Agency from Kansas City, Mo., to film the commercials.

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Information from the ad agency states, &uot;’Band of Brothers’ follows the men of Easy Company from D-Day through the Battle of the Bulge, all the way to victory in Europe. We have located a Wal-Mart associate, John Thorson, who shared many of the same experiences. He survived Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge.&uot;

This is the second time Thorson has been selected to represent the Wal-Mart firm in an event based on World War II. On Nov. 11, 2000, he was sent by the company to Washington, D.C., for the groundbreaking ceremony for the World War II Memorial on the National Mall near the Washington Monument.

Thorson was a U.S. Army medic who watched the initial invasion of the French coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, from a ship in the English Channel. Later in the day his unit become a part of the long anticipated invasion or Europe on D-Day.

“It was hell,” he said. “Dead and wounded all over the place. I was just lucky not to be in the first wave.”

His unit, the 53rd Medical Battalion, was part of the First Army. As a medic he wore red crosses on his helmet and helped to take care of the wounded on Omaha Beach.

Thorson grew up on a farm near Lake Mills, Iowa, and graduated from Leland High School. He was drafted on May 3, 1941, with his brother Marvin and took his basic training at Camp Claiborne, La.

John was with the first U.S. Army units to be sent overseas in early 1942 to Northern Ireland. Then he was sent to England where his unit helped to care for the wounded men coming back from the North African campaign, and to prepare for the invasion of France.

After the combat duty in Normandy, his unit was involved in the battle for Saint-Lo, France, and the liberation of Paris. By September 1944, his unit was in the eastern part of Belgium.

In December 1944 the desperate Germans attacked the Americans in the Ardennes region of Belgium, their last offensive of the war called the “Battle of the Bulge,” which resulted in a temporary retreat, and thousands of U.S. casualties.

About this time he became a chaplain’s assistant, a transfer he says “probably saved my life.”

In early 1945 Thorson crossed the Rhine River and was with a unit that made contact with Russian forces near Leipzig, Germany. Also, during the spring of 1945, he became a part of General George Patton’s Third Army and was in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, when the war ended.

After 43 months of overseas duty, Thorson came back to the U.S. by plane and was discharged at Fort Sheridan, Ill., on Sept. 26, 1945. His discharge document shows involvement in five campaigns: Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe.

Thorson came to Albert Lea in October 1945. Through the years, he worked as a salesman, operated a local service station, owned the Sportsman’s Corner in the Skyline Mall from 1965 to 1970, and was a supervisor for the Mallard Seed Company of Plainview for 12 years. He is now semi-retired.

Thorson gained local fame as a softball player. His team won 13 league championships and was never lower than second place in 26 years. He was inducted into the Freeborn County Softball Hall of Fame in 1973.

Thorson also has trophies for bowling and for being the Freeborn County horseshoe pitching champion in 1954. As a veteran he is a member of Albert Lea’s Leo Carey Post 56 of the American Legion and Freemond Madson Post 447 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He lives at the Senior Court and has been working part time at the nearby Wal-Mart store for about three years. Thorson worked in sporting goods, then the lawn and garden department, and is now a greeter.