Thursday, December 22, 2011

TFH 12/22: Major Thomas J. H. Trapnell, USA

Thomas John Hall Trapnell, "Trap" as he was nicknamed, was born on November 23, 1902 in Yonkers, NY. In 1923, he began his military service at the United States Military Academy, West Point. After graduation, he was commissioned and became a cavalry officer. With the cavalry, he served under such noted officers as Jonathan Wainwright and George Patton.

In 1939, he joined the Philippine Scouts with the 26th Cavalry Regiment. The Japanese Empire invaded the Philippines in a coordinated attack with that on Pearl Harbor. Against insurmountable odds, the forces of the United States Army and the Philippine Army retreated towards the Bataan Peninsula. Trap, then commanding the 26th Cavalry, fought courageously in a rear guard action to protect the withdrawal, including the last horse cavalry charge in US Army history.

On this day in 1941, 70 years ago to the day, his determination, heroism, and fighting spirit was on display as he single-handedly destroyed a bridge to slow the enemy's advance. For his gallantry, he was decorated with our Nation's second highest honor: the Distinguished Service Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Major Thomas John Hall Trapnell, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Commanding Officer of the 26th Cavalry Regiment, Philippine Scouts, in action against enemy forces while the U.S. Cavalry engaged in rear guard action on 22 December 1941, in the Philippine Islands. During a concentration of enemy fire from tanks and infantry, Major Trapnell remained between the hostile forces and his own troops and set on fire a truck on a bridge somewhere in Launion Province. Then he waited calmly until the bridge had burned before leaving in a scout car to rejoin his troops. Major Trapnell's intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

Major Trapnell was captured by the Japanese in April of 1942. He survived the hell of the Bataan Death March, and remained a prisoner of war until he was liberated by the Soviet Union in Manchuria in 1944.

While a prisoner, Trap was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. His service to our Nation continued in the Korean War and in the early days of US involvement in Vietnam. He advised President Kennedy not to get involved. He retired as a Lieutenant General in 1962, with the recommendation he hold the rank of full General in retirement.

In addition to his Distinguished Service Cross, he was also decorated during his career with the Army Distinguished Service Medal, three Silver Star medals, four awards of the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star medal with Valor Device.

Thomas John Hall Trapnell, American hero, passed away on February 13, 2002 at age 99. He rests in the cemetery at West Point.

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