Vice Admiral Howard B. Thorsen was born in York, North Dakota, on 1 November 1933; and raised in Brainerd, Minnesota until graduating Washington High School in May, 1951. He departed the following month to attend the U. S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in May, 1955.
His initial duty assignment was as a Deck Watch Officer on board US Coast Guard Cutter INGHAM in Norfolk, VA, with frequent deployments to Ocean Station duties in the North Atlantic, plus training in Norfolk and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during 1955-57.
Admiral Thorsen next attended US Navy Flight Training in Pensacola, Fl and Corpus Christi, TX, receiving his Navy Wings of Gold in August 1958. His aviation career began with three years in Argentia, Newfoundland, flying search and rescue missions and operating as the aviation component of International Ice Patrol. Subsequent aviation assignments included Air Stations San Diego, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and Corpus Christi where he served as Commanding Officer 1975-76.
Admiral Thorsen was a distinguished graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1977. Non-flying assignments included serving as Commandant of Cadets at the Coast Guard Academy (1980-83) and two tours in CGHQ in the Aeronautical Engineering Division; during the latter of the two (1977-80) as Chief of the Division, he headed a small group of aviators to identify the Service wide replacement for the H52 Sikorsky short range helicopters, successfully achieved contract approval and ultimately production of 96 Aerospatiale H-65 helicopters, which have served admirably in myriad missions since 1983.
Then-Captain Thorsen was Chief of Staff, 5th CG District when selected for Flag rank in 1984. When promoted, he became the first Coast Guard Commodore since WW2 when the rank was reinstituted for a short period of time for the Navy and Coast Guard. As COMO and then RADML, he was assigned as Chief of Research and Development CGHQ.
In 1986, RADM Thorsen donned his second star and was assigned to Command the 7th District, headquartered in Miami FL and also serve as Southeast Coordinator, National Narcotics Border Interdiction System, with operational responsibility for all Coast Guard activity in the SE U.S. and Caribbean, Area. After two years in Florida, Admiral Thorsen was ordered to CGHQ as Chief of Law Enforcement and Defense Operations.
In March 1989, he was promoted to Vice Admiral and assigned as Commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area -and Commander, US Atlantic Maritime Defense Zone (US Navy command) – with responsibility for all Coast Guard operations in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes and Western Rivers….territory east of the Rocky Mountains, plus international activities from the North to South Poles and the Middle East.
Admiral Thorsen was Coast Guard Aviator #776, Helo Pilot #442 and
Ancient Albatross #13 (longest serving aviator.) He accumulated more than 4,000 flight hours, equally divided between rotary and fixed wing operations. He was recognized as the Outstanding Coast Guard Student Pilot in the U.S. Naval Air Training Command for 1958.
His military awards include: Distinguished Service Medal (two) Legion of Merit (three) Meritorious Service (four), plus the Air Medal for a single-pilot nighttime HH-19G helicopter rescue of two men from an offshore rock formation off the coast of Mexico in 1963.
In 2003, Admiral Thorsen became a proud member of The Golden Eagles, an honorary association of 200 Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard aviators. He was inducted into the Coast Guard Aviation Association Hall of Honor in 2020, which he considered his crowning achievement.
By his reconning, the single most important happening was his marriage, on the first day after graduation in 1955, to Marlyn Nitsche of New London, CT, who he met while he was half-way through his time as cadet. They have two daughters, Tracey and Suzanne, and an ever-growing family.
After retirement from active duty, Admiral Thorsen entered the business world, ultimately serving (consecutively) on the Boards of six foreign-owned U.S. corporations) as an Outside Director. He remained active in issues related to the Coast Guard and Academy, and was co-founder of The Foundation for Coast Guard History.