He enlisted in Troop B, 1st Texas Cavalry on 2 July 1916 and saw service on the Mexican border. He was mobilized with the 36th Infantry Division for World War I as a member of Battery B, [1st Bn] 131st Field Artillery (FA) and rose through the ranks to Regimental Sergeant Major of the 131st FA Regiment.
He attended an Officer Training Course at Camp Bowie, Texas, and was commissioned a second lieutenant on 1 JUN 18. He was released from active duty on 9 JAN 19.
He joined the 131st FA again on 4 FEB 24, serving in various assignments culminating with his assignment as Battalion Commander, 1st Battalion, 131st FA as a Lieutenant Colonel on 12 AUG 40.
After the mobilization and then re-organization of the 36th Division, he was placed in command of the 2d Battalion, 131st Field Artillery and took that unit overseas to the Pacific theater on 21 NOV 41. His unit was diverted from the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and finally landed on the island of Java, Dutch East Indies. He and his entire battalion were taken prisoner when the Dutch surrendered to the Japanese. His battalion became known as the “Lost Battalion” as they remained prisoners of the Japanese until the end of the War. He was promoted Colonel while still a prisoner and upon his return remained in the active army until his retirement in 1947.
He was a fine leader (see below), loved and respected by his men and his community. Among his many decorations were the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Presidential Unit Citation with three clusters.Tharp-ANC-profile
While most of the Guardsmen held him in high esteem, a few — in interviews later in life — questioned his support for the enlisted men. They cite two main objections to his leadership in the camps: 1) he allowed the officers to remain apart from the others and did not insist that they intervene on the behalf of the lower ranks; 2) while stopping short of calling him a ‘collaborator’, they relate that — in their mind — he was much too accommodating to the various camp commanders and overseers. They thought that he could have fought harder on their behalf versus the demands being made on them by the IJA.
In his defense, it is possible that he chose to ‘pick his battles’ and did not always stand up to the demands. Unfortunately, he never did an interview nor wrote about his POW experience, so we will never hear his side of the story.