Frank Thorp, 79, Annapolis civic leader

November 21, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Frank Thorp III, a former Annapolis civic leader and businessman whose World War II combat experiences included the D-Day invasion of Normandy, died Monday from complications of Alzheimer's disease at a nursing home in Peoria, Ill. He was 79.

For nearly two decades, until selling the business in 1973, he was owner and president of Thorp Chevrolet in Annapolis. Active in Republican politics, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1973.

Mr. Thorp was born at Fort Knox, Ky., and raised at several military installations where his father, an Army colonel, was assigned. He was a graduate of the Valley Forge Military Academy and attended Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

During World War II, he served with the Army's 101st Airborne Division. In addition to the invasion of Europe, he served in the bloody battle of the Arnhem bridgehead in the Netherlands.

"His stories could be quite graphic," said his son, Frank Thorp IV of Springfield, Va., who accompanied his father's return to the Normandy beaches in 1974. "He recalled parachuting out of a DTC plane and looking over and seeing his buddy shot. He said that by the time he hit the ground he was dead. He'd remember, eyes filling with tears, and say, 'He never had a chance.' "

Another fear, once on the ground, was finding friendly forces who communicated with clickers.

"He said the Germans had broken the code and they tried to imitate the clicking, but he was never quite sure whether German soldiers were hiding in the bushes or American forces," he said.

The elder Mr. Thorp's brother, Mathew Thorp of Washington, a World War II combat veteran who fought with Baltimore's "Dandy" 5th Regiment, said, "He had a pretty rough time, and we tried to remember and talk about only the funny stories."

Mr. Thorp took part in the invasion of the Netherlands, which began Sept. 17, 1944, when 5,000 planes and 2,500 gliders carried 35,000 paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions to capture canal and river bridges.

Allied forces faced stiff resistance from German forces. Of the 10,000 men who went into Arnhem, fewer than 2,500 came out.

"Being a part of the 101st -- the Screaming Eagles -- was the pride of his life," said his son.

Mr. Thorp, who was discharged in 1946 with the rank of major, was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

After the war, Mr. Thorp worked for General Motors' overseas division before establishing Thorp Chevrolet in 1955.

He was appointed honorary U.S. consul general to Guatemala in 1959, and in 1966 was named to the State Roads Commission. From 1972 until the early 1980s, he was a commissioner of the Maryland Department of Transportation.

He also had been a part-owner of the Annapolis Yacht Basin and was a past president of the Annapolis Yacht Club. He was a member of the Annapolis Navy League and Annapolis Touchdown Club, the Annapolis Elks, the Annapolitan Club, the Naval Academy Officers' Golf Association and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 304.

In 1946 he married the former Ida D. Olinger, who died in 1975.

Besides his son and brother, he is survived by five daughters, Margarethe T. Rayburn of Austin, Texas, Alice T. Hough of Stafford, Va., Cathrine T. Scully of Columbia, S.C., Suzanne T. Sullivan of Rochester, N.Y., and Mary Anne Bregar of Peoria; and 18 grandchildren.

He was a communicant of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, 109 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. today.

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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