Ken Taylor: The Reluctant Hero


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Kenneth M. Taylor, USAF


Bio for B. Gen. Kenneth Marlar Taylor, USAF Ret.


            Born just a year after the end of World War I, Gen. Ken Taylor became one of the two first designated and decorated heroes of World War II for action during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.


           Gen. Taylor passed away of natural causes on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2006, at a long-term care facility in Tucson just a dozen days before the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.


            Taylor’s birth was on Dec. 23, 1919 in Enid, OK, the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Joe K. Taylor. A few months after their son’s birth, the Taylors moved to Hominy, OK, where he was reared and graduated from high school in 1938.


After graduation Taylor entered the University of Oklahoma, Norman, as a pre-law student and pledged the Acacia fraternity.


Two years into his studies at OU, Taylor joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and began flight training at the Spartan school for aviation at Tulsa. Later he was transferred to Brooks Field near San Antonio, where he received his wings and commission as a second lieutenant in April, 1941.


First Assignment Is To Hawaii


Taylor was first posted to Wheeler Field near Honolulu, HI to serve with the 47th Pursuit Squadron, commanded by then Maj. Gordon Austin.


The week before Sunday, Dec. 7, the 47th was moved to Haleiwa Field, an auxiliary air strip about ten miles from Wheeler, for gunnery practice and the strategic rotation of Army Air Corps aircraft as the U.S. edged closer to war both in the European and Pacific theatres.


Most of the 47th squadron personnel were released from duty the weekend of Dec. 6-7. On the evening of Dec. 6 Taylor and George Welch, his friend and fellow pilot, donned their tuxes (required dress for officer’s clubs on Saturday evenings) and partied in several locations before ending up at the Wheeler club.


At about 3 a.m. the two young pilots went to bed in the officer’s club, and were awakened around 8 a.m. by the sound of planes flying low overhead and the noise of machine gun fire and explosions. Taylor jumped out of bed and pulled on his tux trousers, and both he and Welch ran outside where they saw Japanese planes flying low overhead.


While Welch ran to get his friend’s Buick, Taylor called Haleiwa and ordered the ground crews to get two P-40s armed and ready for takeoff.


The two pilots covered the distance from Wheeler to Haleiwa quickly, part of the time under fire from Japanese aircraft. At the field they got into their planes and took off immediately.


They flew to Wheeler where the attack had ended. Taylor and Welch continued across Oahu Island, passing a group of B-17 bombers arriving from the mainland, to the area near the Ewa Marine facility. There, they fell in line with a group of Japanese bombers and began to shoot them down.


Senior Officers: "Don't go up again!"


Their ammo expended, both Taylor and Welch landed at Wheeler to rearm with .50 caliber bullets, more powerful than the .30 caliber rounds they were using on their first flight. During the rearming, senior Wheeler officers came to their location on the edge of the field and ordered both pilots to disperse their aircraft and not go up again.


Then, a second wave of Japanese began to attack Wheeler. Welch took off first followed by Taylor, who had to knock ammo carts out of the way to get his P-40 airborne.


Shortly into the second flight a Japanese plane got on Taylor’s tail, with one bullet narrowly missing his head and exploding in the cockpit wounding him. Welch came on the scene and downed the Japanese plane, thus saving Taylor’s life.


Official U.S. Air Force records credit Welch with four kills and Taylor two. But a plaque at Wheeler later credited both Taylor and Welch with four each.


For their heroic action on Dec. 7, the U.S. War Dept. in Communiqué No. 19 on Dec. 13, 1941, designated Taylor and Welch as the first two heroes of World War II. Both were to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, highest decoration for combat by the Army.


The two pilots received the DSC at an all-out ceremony at Wheeler Field on Jan. 8, 1942. Welch, senior to Taylor by a few months, received his medal first and thus became the first decorated hero of World War II.


            At a later ceremony, Taylor was awarded the Purple Heart for his wound during the attack.


On May 9, 1942, Taylor married Flora Love Morrison of Hennessy, OK, whom he had met when she was visiting her father in Hawaii.


Gets Another Kill in South Pacific


Taylor then was sent to the South Pacific to fly from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, and was credited with downing one Japanese aircraft before being injured during an air raid and sent back to the States.


His later service during the war, during which time he rose to the rank of major, included command of the 14th Pursuit Squadron and the 18th Pursuit group.


His assignments during the remainder of some 27 years in the U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force included command of the P-80 Combat Jet Squadron, the 4961st Special Weapons Test Group, planner at Headquarters, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Alaskan Air Command, Director of Operations for the 28th NORAD region in California and long-range planner for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon during his second of two tours there.


During this time he flew a number of different Air Force aircraft including the B-29 bomber.


Taylor was graduated from the Army Staff College in Leavenworth, KS; the Royal Air Force Staff College in England and the Air War College, Montgomery, AL. He retired as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force while serving at the Pentagon in 1967.


His decorations in addition to the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Service Medal, Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Achievement Medal and wartime campaign ribbons.


Taylor was inducted into the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame in 1998.


After his Air Force service Taylor was Commander of the Alaska Air National Guard and retired as a brigadier general. His son, Ken II, later retired as a brigadier general from the same position.


Following his Air Guard retirement, Taylor worked in the insurance industry in Alaska and was a representative of Lloyds of London.


The Taylors, who divide their time between Alaska and Southern Arizona, also have a daughter, Tina, and several grandchildren.










Following in his father's footsteps.
B.Gen. Ken Taylor Jr. (in jacket) also commanded the Alaska Air National Guard.

Ken with Mrs. Taylor, "wind beneath his wings."
Ken and his wife, Flora Love "Baby" Taylor, at Air Force Ceremony, Wheeler Field.

Another Heroic Action
    When I first met the Taylors my fiance, later my wife, always refered to Ken as "The Wagonmaster."
    Her father, who also retired as an Air Force general, and Ken were posted at the same time to the Alaska Air Command in Anchorage. During the summers of those years the two families often went on camping trips together.
    Ken, I was told, would stand around with a cigar in one hand and a drink in the other and was very adept at getting other campers to gather firewood, build the fire, do the cooking and cleanup after a meal. Thus the title, The Wagonmaster, which is what I always have called him.
    On one camping trip my wife's youngest brother, just a kid, decided the campfire would burn a lot better if he poured some gasoline on it and picked up the can of gas nearby.
    Most adults probably would have yelled at a kid to not do that with the reaction from the child often going ahead with the intended but forbidden act.
    Not The Wagonmaster.  He very calmly said, "Thom, you know if I were you I don't think I would do that." Thom put the can down and most likely saved his life.
    In the winter Anchorage was a big party town, and when visiting there after Ken and my in-laws had moved back to Alaska from Washington, DC we went to a lot of parties -- usually requiring black tie.    
    Black tie dress was so common up there I wondered if guys put on a tux just to take the trash out.
    My wife's family had a pool table and inevitably we would end up back at their home with a group where the women went off to talk and the guys shot pool.
    Ken and I usually cleaned the table and since we both were from the Sooner State, became known around Anchorage as the "Oklahoma Fats" after the famed Minnesota pool shark.

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Click on certificate to enlarge.
This certificate states that Capt. Taylor downed a Japanese Zero on Jan. 27, 1943.