|Gen. Taylor on NBC Evening News Dec. 7, 2003.
Historian Douglas Brinkley Salutes Ken Taylor "The story of Lt. Taylor
is one of raw American heroism of the most extraordinary kind, because at a time when he should have been in some kind of bomb shelter he came and put his face in front of the enemy."
-- Douglas Brinkley on Dec. 7, 2003
on an "NBC Evening News" story about Ken Taylor's heroism at Pearl Harbor.
of this page is to outine efforts I have underaken in recent years trying to get the Army to upgrade Ken Taylor's and
George Welch's Distinguished Service Cross to the Congressional Medal of Honor. It has been a labor of love and it's still
In fairly recent years while in the public affairs business in Washington,
DC I have had substantial involvement with both the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and recipients of the medal.
It began with my public relations counseling for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Fund (VVMF), where I have been involved as an advisor since the effort began to build the Memorial in 1981.
For the 15th anniversary of The Wall's dedication in 1982, I developed
a project where we would have recipients of the MOH from the Vietnam War appear for a salute at a home game for all the major
league baseball teams as well as those in the National Football League.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society agreed to cooperate with VVMF,
and it proved to be a highly successful program.
But prior to this event, in the summer of 1993 I had joined with then U.S.
Dept. of Veterans Affairs Sec. Ed Derwinski in hosting a dinner for all of the MOH recipients living In
the Washington, DC area.
Gen. Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the featured
speaker at a program emceed by Jim Bohannon, the radio talk show host and Vietnam veteran.
This was the purpose of the event.
During latter stages of the Vietnam War, those who were being
presented the Medal of Honor by the president of the United States were slipped into the White House and slipped out with
a minimum of fanfare. Honoring them at the dinner was a small but long overdue gesture of recogniton.
During this time I acquired several books about the medal and read dozens
of citations online at one of several Web sites. Thus I became very familiar with heroic acts in combat for medal recipients.
Taylor/Welch Heroism Seems To Meet MOH Criteria
However, insofar as I could disabuse myself from my almost 40-year
friendship with Ken, the Taylor/Welch heroism during the attack on Dec.7 seemed to be in keeping with the highest
traditons of MOH criteria.
So, I went to work with the assistance of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).
We began with the senator writing a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force.
At the advice of a retired four-star Air Force general, Russ Dougherty, I sent a letter to Gen. John Jumper, Air Force Chief
The letters to both men included materials from the priceless Taylor scrapbook
that seemed to make the case for the upgrade.
In short time both Sen. Stevens and I received similar responses. This was,
both letters said, a matter for the U.S. Army since there had been no U.S. Air Force on Dec. 7, 1941.
The next move on advice from Sen. Stevens' staff was to get statements from
as many witnesses as possible attesting to the heroism by Taylor and Welch. The senator would then send these statements to
the Army Medals Board.
|Ken Taylor with a replica of the Japanese Val bombers he shot down.
The Quest for Witnesses of Dec. 7, 1941 Aerial Combat
As it developed when I began my quest for witnesses to the aerial combat Ken and George were engaged
in during the Pearl Harbor attack, I located a 47th Squadron member who had a list with some phone numbers and addresses of those there on Dec. 7.
These contacts produced nothing. The 47th men were scattered all over the island and understandably,
with some 386 Japanese aircraft attacking both military and civilian targets in waves from their carriers at sea, those on
the ground probably were not gawking at aerial dogfights.
I talked by phone to Kermit Tyler, operations officer at Wheeler Field that day because Ken said
he and George had conctacted him by radio after they took off from Haleiwa Field. Tyler, who became one of the scapegoats
of that day for blowing off the call from the radar operator reporting numerous dots on his screen, said he
had no memory of this. Considering what had just happened at Wheetler with aircraft and buildings burning everywhere
(see photo on this site), that's understandable.
Maj. Gen. Gordon Austin USAF Ret., then a major and squadron commander, had gone deer hunting on
a neighboring island and did not return to Wheeler until after the Japaneses planes had left for their carriers. (Austin went
on to have a distinguished career in aerial combat on the other side of the world.) In an email to me, Gen. Austin said after
landing at Wheeler he was ordered to join his squadron at Haleiwa. Driving there, he met Taylor and Welch on the road leaving the base to look for some the the Japanese attackers they
had shot down. Together the three men walked about a hundred yards from the road, finding the remains of a Val bomber.
Former Sgt. Raymond Turley, a crew chief in the 47th, said from Haleiwa he saw nothing but Ken
and George taking off in their P-40s. (More on Sgt. Turley elsewhere on the site.)
|Maj. Gen. Gordon Austin, U.S. Air Force Ret. was Ken's squadron leader on Dec. 7, 1941.
A part of an exhibit at the US Army Museum of Hawaii confirms that Ken Taylor downed four Japanese
planes during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Trying To Find the Action
The island of Oahu is 607.7 square miles. It is established that Ken and George first flew to Wheeler
after taking off from Haleiwa and, finding no action there, headed across Oahu towards the Ewa Marine base where a dozen Japanese
bombers were poised to attack. Getting in line with the bombers, both American pilots began firing and downed their first
aircraft. After that dogfight they returned to Wheeler, as the DSC citation says, to rearm with the more powerful .50 caliber
ammo rather than the .30 caliber gunnery practice rounds the planes had when leaving Haleiwa.
In "December 7 1941 The Day The Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor," a Gordon Prange book, on pages
287-289 (Warner Books, 1988), he writes that "a large, excited goup of spectators (at Schofield Barracks) watched
as 2nd Lt. Philip M. Rusmussen engaged another Japanese in single combat over a pineapple field at Wahiawa."
Sixty-five years later I am not one to in any way disagree about what Dr. Prange has
chronicled about the attack in his books. But with the military installations on Oahu under attack that
day, this story begs two questions.
First, why were the soldiers not at their posts doing their duty instead of standing around watching
a dogfight?. Second, how were personnel at another Army facility able to identify the U.S. Army plane as being Lt. Rasmussen's at
that altitude? Dr. Prange does not give an explanation, but a few pages later describes a bombing and near total chaos
at Schofield. Other than that the Japanese plane was downed and Rasmussen's plane was found
very badly damaged after he landed. (I have made numerous efforts to contact Lt. Rasmussen but have failed.)
I think it is clear those on the ground below where Ken and George were shooting down Japanese,
even if they could watch a few minutes, did not know who was who. If Navy or Marine survivors were located lthey ikely
could not state more than that there was some aerial combat above them.
Thus my long and exhaustive search for survivors who could provide statements as to the Taylor/Welch
heroism disapointedly ended with no success.
Congressional Medal of Honor recipients during the Vietnam War who
were guests at the dinner in their honor hosted by Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Administration Ed Derwinski and
John Martin Meek were, from left, Michael Thornton. Brian Thacker, Patrick Brady, James Fleming, Meek, Sec. Derwinski, Robert Foley, Ronald Ray and Wesley Fox. Thornton, Brady, Fleming and Fox were still
on active duty at the time. Thacker and Ray had positions at the VA. Gen. Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, was the dinner speaker and Jim Bohannon, talk show host and a Vietnam veteran, was emcee.
Click on photo to enlarge.
"He (Ken) scored the first kill for the squadron and helped decimate
the only attack by Japanese Army aircraft on Guadalcanal in Jan., 1943."
-- Jack Cook, Historian, 44th Fighter Squadron
Factoids and Urban Legends
About Ken Taylor and George Welch
Over the years numerous stories, some major and
some minor, about Ken and George in books, movies, news stories, cartoon and other media coverage simply are
not the way it happened according to my many conversations with Ken. Here are a few:
- The two pilots were not standing outside the Wheeler Field Officer’s
Club, after playing poker all night, when the Japanese attacked the base. Ken said they were in bed by about 3 a.m. and awakened
around 8 a.m. by the attacking aircraft.
and George were not dressed in khakis as if they had just come from the parade ground when they took off in their P-40s. Ken
put on ruffled front formal shirt and tux trousers (black tie dress was required on Saturday niight at officer's clubs
in Hawaii at that time) he had been wearing Saturday night because they were at his bedside.
- The Buick Ken owned, which he drove from Wheeler to Haleiwa Field where their
P-40s were based, was not a convertible as portrayed in "Tora! Tora! Tora!."
- George was not a member of the wealthy Welch grape juice/jelly family. He was from Wilmington,
DE where his father worked for DuPont.
is no actual evidence yet found that George, but not Ken, was written up for a Congressional Medal of Honor. Surely Gen. Gordon
Austin, 47th Squadron commander on Dec. 7, would have known if George had been singled out for the MOH. It is most unlikely
that with World War II started, and the possibility the Japanese might again attack Hawaii, the U.S. Army command on
the island had no certain knowledge of the number of enemy planes downed by either Taylor or Welch. As for who downed the
first plane in aerial combat in World War II, Ken said he and George had an agreement: the survivor among the two could claim
Why Taylor and Welch Were Not
Medal of Honor Recipients?
Several theories have been put forth on why the U.S. Navy awarded 15 Medals of Honor, the Marines none and among the thousands of Army personnel in Hawaii during the
Japanese attack not a single one.
While print and television stories about Dec. 7, 1941 even today mostly focus on the terrible damage to the Navy vessels
at Pearl Harbor, there was plenty of action and destruction at Wheeler Field, Hickam Field, Schofield Barracks and other Army
Taylor and George Welch each received the Distinguished Service Cross, highest award given for heroism in combat, the
controversy centers around them.
One theory is the two pilots went up to take on the Japanese attackers the first time without orders to do so, and their
second flight was most definitely against orders of Wheeler Field's top brass.
Another theory is that while Gen. Gordon Austin has said they were the best two pilots in his 47th Squadron, by
Ken's own admission he and George were not exactly model officers at Wheeler Field. Especially in the view of one West Point
graduate at Wheeler.
there is my own theory as someone who has learned a lot about the Pearl Harbor attack from Ken, Gen. Austin, books and
otherwise, but is not an acknowledged expert on the subject.
First, even without the Army's new radar facility, its facilities and pesonnel in Hawaii were no less
unprepared for a surprise attack by Japan than our country was for hijacked airliners crashing into major buildings on 9/11.
The Army may well have been the least prepared. Some indication of the Army high command thinking was the order
to have the Wheeler Field aircraft parked together in the center of the field to avoid sabotage by Japanese who lived on the
There, they were an easy target for the Japanese and almost all were destroyed in the first attack on the base (see Wheeler
Field photo on this site).
wait a minute. I've spent a little time with three of the military services -- Army, Navy and Marines -- and to me it
begs this question.
would have been wrong with leaving the planes in hangars or their usual stations, then posting guards on foot and in vehicles
to patrol the perimeter?
Second, from what Ken and Kermit Tyler, officer-of-the-day at the time of the attack, have told me, there was no plan for
defense of the base even if the 47th Squadron had been at Wheeler and with all aircraft in their usual locations.
One of the other 47th pilots I interviewed said after the attack started he did drive to a Wheeler hangar, but there
was nothing he could do once he arrived there.
The thesis that going up first without orders and the second time against orders has one big hole
Read carefully the citation on this site for the two pilots' DSCs, which praise what they did on their own initiative
in taking to the air twice. That really is the key to their heroism -- that they acted on their own.
To cut to the chase, it's possible the Army did not want to call any more media attention to numerous incidents
of bad judgment -- such as the order to park the planes in the middle of Wheeler Field -- by awarding Ken and George the Congressional
Medal of Honor.
Being first to receive this highest of honors in the new war would have been a bonanza for the media, writing about the two
young second lieutenants' action on their own to engage in aerial combat the hundreds of Japanese attackers. Moreover,
as MOH recipients they would have have traveled back to Washington, DC to receive the decorations from President
Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House.
Add to this Gen. Austin's statement to me when I interviewed him that he had nothing to do with the medal decision, the haste
in which Ken and George were named the first two heroes of World War II, and not one member of the Army being a recipient
of the MOH, and you have a very significant mystery for history.
Moreover, when I first started this project about five years ago, I tried to contact officials at both the Pearl Harbor Memorial
Museum, Honolulu, and the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, TX to see if they might help with their records. Neither
would take my calls or return them.
And this mystery deepens when the National Archives has told me the War Department press release naming Ken and George the
first two heroes of the war is the only one missing among those issued at that time. However, newspaper clippings from several
papers confirm this honor.
"Wheeler had little protection against aerial attack, with
no antiaircraft guns, no trenches, and no air raid shelters. The base had only five machine guns, which were mounted on top
of the hangars and the big barracks; and the perimeter guard was armed with rifles."
-- From "7 December 1941 The Air
Force Story," p.111.
|Planes and facilities burn at Wheeler Field after the Japanese attack.
Your Tux Pants Ruined Lieutenant? Here's Why
Near the Christmas holidays in 2001, Gen. Taylor received a letter from former
Sgt. Raymond Turley of Mt. Pleasant, KY, who was a crew chief with the 47th Squadron the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. When
the envelope was opened, out fell several slivers of brass. The note from Mr. Turley in the letter said, "I found these in
the cockpit of your plane when I was cleaning it up the next day at Wheeler Field. I have kept them for 60 years and
thought it was time I sent them to you." Ken does not discuss his wound from the slivers of the Japanese bullet that narrowly
missed his head before exploding in the cockpit, but still complains about the fragments making holes in the
tux pants he was wearing that day.
The National Archives was asked to find the U. S. War Dept. Communique No. 19 naming Ken Taylor and George Welch as the
first two designated heroes of World War II. The response was that the press release is mysteriously missing although
others of those days after Pearl Harbor are intact. But the United Press wire story and other press accounts around
the country confirm they were named the first two heroes of this long conflict. Click on the letter to enlarge.