Office of Strategic Services and Central Intelligence Agency
Published on June 13, 2014
Franklin Waters "Buck" Trapnell Jr., a retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam, died of a heart attack May 31 while visiting family near Richmond, Va. The former Roland Park resident was 77.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Lake Avenue in Cedarcroft, he was the son of Franklin Waters Trapnell, an attorney who became an Office of Strategic Services and Central Intelligence Agency officer. His mother was Emily Willson Rieman Smith, a homemaker and volunteer.
According to an autobiographical sketch, he spent much of his youth in Berlin, Germany, and Vienna, Austria, after World War II during the military occupation.
"He routinely, and unofficially, assisted his father with his intelligence work," said his granddaughter, Alexa Warthen of Philomont, Va. "He was a courier, sabotaged car batteries, debriefed refugees, changed out wiretap batteries and collected wiretap recordings.
"He used the Vienna city sewer system to do this work. He stood guard for East German defectors and used his father's pistol. He had an unorthodox upbringing and developed a remarkably open mind and had an exceptional grasp of adaptive tactics."
After returning to Baltimore, he enrolled at Polytechnic Institute but left school to join the Maryland National Guard and serve in the 29th Division. He later studied at the Johns Hopkins University and was acting head of its Reserve Officers Training Corps for a year.
After serving in the National Guard, he enlisted in the Army in 1961 and trained as a light infantryman and attended parachute school. While at Fort Bragg, he completed Special Forces qualification as a weapons specialist. He also trained in communications, demolitions, medical work and intelligence.
After attending Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned as an infantry officer. He served in Vietnam from July 1965 to August 1966 and participated in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley during the Pleiku campaign.
"He was a hard-nosed, tactically savvy commander and a genuinely caring mentor," said his granddaughter, who is a former Army captain and flier. She said that that during the second half of his first Vietnam tour, he served as company executive officer and as company commander.
While on duty in Vietnam, Colonel Trapnell was photographed and quoted in a 1966 Baltimore Sun article.
"We've been here a week, and I guess we're going to be here another," he said in the article, which covered U.S. aircraft bombing a jungle site.
Colonel Trapnell returned to the U.S. and became an intelligence officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. He then volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam.
"The locals trusted him, and would bring their gold savings and valuables for his safekeeping whenever a Viet Cong attack was in the offing," his granddaughter said. "He in turn recognized the situation as a harbinger of impending attack; he used it to prepare for subsequent attacks. He would later return the valuables."
From 1982 to 1984, he commanded the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry in the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood and headed a Bradley Fighting Vehicle training team.
Colonel Trapnell taught military science at Hopkins and oversaw ROTC programs at Loyola University Maryland and Towson University, among other colleges in the Mid-Atlantic. He retired in 1990.
"He had a near flawless memory and made an unforgettable first impression," said his granddaughter.
In retirement, he moved from homes on Wyndhurst Avenue and Overlook Place in North Baltimore to a home he designed and built in Manassas, Va. He cleared the land and worked on the house's construction.
"He was the patriarch of the family, and he advised and coordinated many family investments," his granddaughter said.
He also built, owned and operated cellphone towers from West Virginia to Wyoming.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, 419 Cedarcroft Road, where he had been a member.
In addition to his granddaughter, survivors include his wife of 55 years, the former Elizabeth Florence Rich Flannery, who performed with the Spotlighters and at the Four Corners Theatre; a daughter, Emily Marilla Trapnell Coryell of Baltimore; a stepson, Michael Flannery of Baltimore; two stepdaughters, Colise Medved of Washington and Agnes Collins Flannery of Walnut Creek, Calif.; seven other grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.