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First Name: Thomas

Last Name: Trapnell

Birthplace: Yonkers, NY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: John Hall

Date of Birth: 23 November 1902

Date of Death: 13 February 2002

Rank: Lieutenant General

Years Served: 1927 - 1962
Thomas John Hall Trapnell

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1927

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)
•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Thomas John Hall "Trap" Trapnell
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army

Thomas John Hall Trapnell was born on 23 November 1902 in Yonkers, NY, to Joseph Trapnell and Laura Kennedy. Trapnell was a prosperous and distinguished family originally from the Chesapeake area whose roots stretched back to early Colonial America. One brother, Walter Scott Kennedy Trapnell, rose to the rank of Commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II, while another brother, William Holmes Trapnell, was a prominent attorney. A cousin, Frederick M. Trapnell, was a famous naval test pilot who retired from the Navy as a Vice Admiral. Several other cousins also served as commissioned officers in the Armed Forces.

After graduating from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA, in 1923, Trapnell attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. Known as the "warhorse of the West Point backfield," he was an All-America halfback in football - where he teamed with future Hall of Famer Chris Cagle. In 1926, in one of West Point's best years, Trapnell participated in a memorable game against Navy that tied at 21-21. The match was played at Soldier Field in Chicago - the only time either team has played that venue. Army suffered only one loss that entire season (to Notre Dame).

Trapnell was also a top-rated lacrosse player who rose to the captaincy of the Army team. His first brush with public notoriety came when his crew defeated the highly-rated team from Hobart College captained by his younger brother, William. The characteristically athletic and competitive Trapnells did their best to outshine each other as evidenced by one report:

Captain T. J. Hall Trapnell of the Army team and Captain William H. Trapnell, brothers,engaged in several sharp scrimmages, the first of which resulted in Captain Trapnell of the Army leaving the field under a three-minute penalty.

Trapnell graduated in 1927 and was commissioned as a platoon leader in the 11th Cavalry Regiment. During this time, he served under two future generals, Jonathan Wainwright and George Patton. In 1937, he was promoted to Captain; two years later, he was assigned to the Philippine Scouts.

While in the Philippines, Trapnell was instrumental in recruiting Sofia Adamson, future founder of the Pacific Asia Museum in Los Angeles and co-founder of Adamson University in Manila, to the staff of General Douglas MacArthur. He also became a star polo player. Trapnell was promoted to Major and was made Executive Officer of the 26th Cavalry Regiment.

Service During World War II

In 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines, routing combined U.S.-Filipino defensive forces. During their withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula in December, Trapnell, commanding a unit of the 26th Cavalry Regiment, fought a desperate rear-guard action that included the last tactical cavalry charge of the U.S. Army.

Using a medical truck to block one of the bridges used by retreating Fil-Am force and setting it afire, Trapnell then remained at this position under constant fire until it was rendered impassable. Although he had a command car with which to beat a hasty retreat, he instead withdrew slowly with a picked force retrieving wounded soldiers along the way. For this engagement, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and commended by General MacArthur:

With complete disregard for his safety, Major Trapnell delayed the hostile advance and set an inspiring example to his entire regiment.

Taken prisoner in April 1942, along with remaining U.S. forces, Trapnell endured months of horrific conditions at Camps O'Donnell and Cabanatuan. While interned, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In December 1944 he was transported, along with 1,620 other prisoners, on the notorious POW hell ship, Oryoku Maru. U.S. dive-bombers, unaware of the ship's status, attacked and sunk the vessel. Trapnell survived only to fall victim to a repeated attack the following year. This time, U.S. Navy aircraft attacked and disabled the Enoura Maru. He and the approximate 950 survivors of the two sinkings were placed aboard the Brazil Maru but only 550 survived the journey to Japan. In August 1945, Trapnell was liberated from Hoten POW camp in Manchuria by Russian troops. At the time, his once athletic, six-foot frame had been reduced to less than 100 pounds.

Upon his return to the U.S., Trapnell attended the Command and General Staff College. Afterward, he completed Airborne School and assumed command of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, NC. On 8 May 1948, Trapnell led the 505th as part of a record-setting exercise that saw 2,200 paratroopers travel some 500 miles to make a jump at Camp Campbell, KY.

Service in Southeast Asia and Beyond

In 1951, Trapnell was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and placed in command of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. In November of that year, the 187th made a "simulated combat drop," landing 3,000 troops and 100,000 lbs. of equipment in South Korea during 'Operation Showoff,' a demonstration of wartime airlift capability. From May to June 1952, the 187th under Trapnell was instrumental in suppressing the rebellion of 80,000 Chinese and North Korean prisoners at the Koje-do Island POW camp. Some 40 prisoners were killed during the uprising which had been fomented by communist leaders attempting to disrupt truce negotiations.

From 1952-54, Major General Trapnell headed the U.S. advisory mission in French Indochina, leaving just before Ho Chi Minh's victory at Dien Bien Phu. While serving as the chief advisor, he issued a series of reports to his superiors in which he predicted that the French would not be able to defeat the communist insurgency. Trapnell was replaced by Maj. Gen. John W. O'Daniel and returned to the U.S. for a succession of commands: the recently reactivated 4th Armored Division at Ft. Hood, TX, from 1954-55 and the 82nd Airborne Division from 1955-56.

Trapnell returned to South Korea in 1958, commanding I Corps for two years before becoming Chief of Staff to Gen. Isaac White, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army Pacific. In 1960, after briefly commanding Third U.S. Army at Ft. McPherson, GA, he took command of both the XVIII Airborne Corps and the Strategic Army Corps at Ft. Bragg. While there, Trapnell presided over the dedication of the Airborne Trooper statue in September 1961. He also strongly advocated for the joint forces reaction force that became Strike Command.

In 1961, Lieutenant General Trapnell was in South Vietnam where he advised President John F. Kennedy against U.S. involvement. Presciently gauging the eventual swing of U.S. public opinion and weighing the organizational success and popularity of Minh, Trapnell concluded that the Vietnamese communists were waging a "clever war of attrition." While he supported holding the line against communist expansion in Asia, he nevertheless believed that a "military solution in Indochina [was] not possible."

Trapnell's final command came in 1961. In that year, SAC and Tactical Air Command were unified as Strike Command; Trapnell once again assumed command of Third Army. He retired in 1962.

Medals, Awards and Badges

Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star Medal with 2 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Legion of Merit with 3 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Bronze Star Medal with Combat Valor Device
Purple Heart
Prisoner of War Medal
American Defense Service Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal with Bronze Star
United Nations Service Medal
Master Parachutist Badge

Foreign Medals and Awards

Commander of National Order of Vietnam
Order of the Cross with Valor and Palm
Croix de Guerre - France
Croix de Guerre - Vietnam

Distinguished Service Cross Citation

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 (Cavalry) Thomas John Hall Trapnell (ASN: 0-16782), 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.

General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, General Orders No. 11 (1942)

In Retirement

Trapnell later served as an advisory board member of the Center for Internee Rights in Florida advocating for just treatment of U.S. POWs and fair compensation from holding nations.


Trapnell was married to his first wife, Alys Snow, from 1929 until her death in 1953. Alys had relocated to the Philippines with her husband when he was posted there but returned to the U.S. "when the Army wives were evacuated" in May 1942. His second marriage, to Elizabeth Elder, lasted from 1956 to her death in 2001. He had no children.

Like many other males in his family, Trapnell was known as "Trap" from his last name. As such, Trapnell became the first person whose nickname appeared in an official War Department record (Communiqué 69):From his field headquarters in the Philippines General MacArthur today announced the award of the Distinguished Service Cross to Major Thomas J. H. ("Trap") Trapnell, Cavalry, for extraordinary heroism in action.

An article in the New York Times implied that this may have been to engender feelings of camaraderie among U.S. servicemen.

Although he served as an inspiration for his nephew, Garrett, their relationship was strained. In 1955, the younger Trapnell joined the Army, arriving at the same installation, Fort Hood, where his famous uncle was then Commandant. Afterwards, he was posted with the 187th RCT, the older Trapnell's old unit. However, he did all of this as an enlisted man, causing the general to "[deride] him as the first Trapnell to achieve the rank of private." Lt. Gen. Trapnell would subsequently disown Pvt. Trapnell after the latter's stint as a bank robber, con man, and skyjacker.

Death and Burial

Lieutenant General Thomas John Hall Trapnell died of heart failure on 13 February 2002 at the Fairfax retirement facility in Ft. Belvoir, VA. He is buried at the U.S. Military Academy Post Cemetery in West Point, NY.

Honoree ID: 3155   Created by: MHOH




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