Kenneth Marlar Taylor
Brigader General, United States Air Force
General Kenneth M. Taylor (Retired) was one of the first U.S. pilots to
see action in World War II. He destroyed four enemy aircraft on that day
at Pearl Harbor, wearing a pair of tuxedo pants and uniform shirt he scrambled
into from a dance the previous night. He continued to serve in the South
Pacific, first as a pilot and Operations Officer, then as a Fighter Squadron,
Group, and Base Commander.
After the war he commanded the 4925th Special
Test Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, before becoming Chief
of the USAF Plans Branch at the Pentagon. Eventually he moved on to the
Alaskan Air Command, becoming a Brigadier General before retiring from
service in 1967.
Kenneth Taylor was 86.
The Army Air Corps Second Lieutenant was "comfortably asleep" in borrowed officers' quarters on a Hawaiian island one Sunday morning in 1941 after a "very entertaining" Saturday night out, his son Kenneth Taylor Jr. recalled yesterday.
The 21-year-old pilot, who'd never seen combat, awoke suddenly to the sound of the Japanese attack on U.S. military forces in Hawaii.
Japanese pilots were strafing the officers' quarters where Taylor and 24-year-old pilot George S. Welch slept.
The first wave of Japanese fighter planes had wrecked most of the Army's air fleet on Oahu, dropping high explosives on two-thirds of the fleet of 140 P-40s and P-36s. And the U.S. Navy fleet in Pearl Harbor was under attack.
Taylor and the 47th Fighter Squadron of the 18th Fighter Group were based at Wheeler Army Air Field in central Oahu for gunnery practice. The Curtiss P-40 Warhawks he and Welch flew weren't armed or fueled.
Taylor's son said that was because the Army
had been more afraid of sabotage than an attack by the Japanese.
"While the crew got their two planes ready to go, George Welch and my dad got into my dad's Buick convertible and drove out to the airfield" at up to 100 mph.
Haleiwa Air Field was barely an airfield and more like "a strip of sod right off the beach," he said.
Welch and Taylor got into their aircraft "while a major jumped all over both of them for taking off without orders. He was busy chewing them out while crews put the ammo on board."
Taylor's P-40 "knocked over the ammunition dolly as he taxied out. My dad was firing his guns before he was off the ground. He took off into the tail of the Japanese airplanes."
"This is a fighter pilot's dream," his son said. "Pearl Harbor's been attacked, and everything out there is a target."
Taylor found himself "in the middle of an attack. Someone in the rear was attacking him, and he was wounded in the arm by a shell fragment. His squadron mate shot down the guy who was on his tail, otherwise he might not have survived that moment," the younger Taylor said.
Taylor went back up in the air after getting first aid. He and Welch are credited with a total of six downed Japanese aircraft.
"It was what he was supposed to do, what he was trained to do, what he had the temperament to do," his son said. Two weeks later, he turned 22.
"He didn't feel particularly heroic," his son said.
Taylor is credited with shooting down two Japanese fighter planes and with two unconfirmed hits. Welch is credited with four hits. The men received the Distinguished Service Cross for their valor but were denied the Medal of Honor because they went into combat without orders. Their actions were portrayed in the 1970 film "Tora! Tora! Tora!"
Taylor is survived by his wife, Flora, whom
he married in 1942; son Kenneth Taylor Jr. of Green Valley; daughter Jo
Kristina Hartley of Washington state and three grandchildren
Kenneth Taylor; Flew Against Pearl Harbor Raiders
By Patricia Sullivan
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Kenneth M. Taylor, 86, an Army Air Forces pilot who managed to get airborne under fire near Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and shot down at least two Japanese attacking aircraft, died November 25, 2006, at an assisted living residence in Tucson. He had been ill since hip surgery two years ago.
He was a new Second Lieutenant on his first assignment, posted in April 1941 to Wheeler Army Airfield in Honolulu. A week before the Japanese attacked, his 47th Pursuit Squadron was temporarily moved to Haleiwa Field, an auxiliary airstrip about 10 miles from Wheeler, for gunnery practice.
After a night of poker and dancing at the officers' club at Wheeler, where the dress code required tuxedoes, 21-year-old Lieutenant Taylor and fellow pilot George Welch awoke to the sound of planes flying low, machine-gun fire and explosions. They learned that two-thirds of the U.S. aircraft at the main bases of Hickam and Wheeler fields were demolished or unable to fly.
They quickly pulled on their tuxedo pants and, while Welch ran to get Lieutenant Taylor's new Buick, Lieutenant. Taylor, without orders, called Haleiwa and commanded the ground crews to get two P-40 fighters armed and ready for takeoff.
Strafed by Japanese aircraft, the pair sped 10 miles from Honolulu to Haleiwa. At the airstrip, they climbed into their fighters, which were fueled but not fully armed, took off and soon attracted fire from the Japanese, who had not expected to be challenged in the air. Suddenly, they were in combat, two pilots against 200 to 300 Japanese aircraft.
Soon out of ammunition, Welch and Lieutenant Taylor landed at Wheeler to rearm. Senior officers ordered them to stay on the ground.
"He had been wounded by that point and was bleeding," said Lieutenant Taylor's son, retired Air Force Brigadier General Kenneth Taylor Jr. "But while ground crews were rearming the planes, and he was being lectured on his behavior, the Japanese attacked Wheeler again. That scattered the crowd, and [Lieutenant Taylor and Welch] took off. My dad actually hit some ammo carts as he was taking off and fired his guns before he was off the ground."
His father told the Army Times in 2001: "I took off right toward them, which gave me the ability to shoot at them before I even left the ground. I got behind one of them and started shooting again. The only thing I didn't know at that time was that I got in the middle of the line rather than the end. There was somebody on my tail.
"They put a bullet right behind my head through the canopy and into the trim tab inside. So I got a little bit of shrapnel in my leg and through the arm. It was of no consequence; it just scared the hell out of me for a minute."
Official records credit Lieutenant Taylor with two kills. His son noted that his father thought he had two more, although in the heat of the battle he didn't see the planes hit the ground, and potential witnesses were too busy to keep track. Welch was credited with four downed Japanese planes. American aircraft losses were estimated at 188 destroyed and 159 damaged, and the Japanese lost 29 planes.
For their service, Lieuten ants Taylor and Welch were awarded the first Distinguished Service Crosses of World War II. Lieuenant Taylor later received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Air Medal and other decorations. He also received a Purple Heart for his injuries.
A family friend, John Martin Meek, has been trying for the past five years to get the Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to a Medal of Honor, with a campaign at his Web site, http://www.pearlharborhero.net.
Born December 23, 1919, in Enid, Oklahoma, Kenneth Marlar Taylor was raised in Hominy, Oklahoma, and entered the University of Oklahoma in 1938. After two years, he quit school to enlist in the Army Air Corps.
His first commanding officer, retired General Gordon Austin, chose Lieutenants Taylor and Welch as his flight commanders shortly after their arrival in Hawaii.
"He was skillful as a pilot and a well-oriented officer," said Austin, now 93 and living in Alexandria. "You couldn't ask for a better flying officer in your squadron. He was willing to do anything, I'm sure. The enemy was all around and he was going after them."
After Pearl Harbor, the young pilot was sent to the South Pacific, flying out of Guadalcanal, and was credited with downing another Japanese aircraft. During an air raid at the base one day, someone jumped into a trench on top of him and broke his leg, which ended his combat career.
He rose to the rank of Colonel during his 27 years of active duty. He became commander of the Alaska Air National Guard and retired as a Brigadier General in 1971. He then worked as an insurance underwriter in Alaska, representing Lloyds of London, until 1985.
General Taylor split his retirement between Anchorage and Arizona. He was a technical adviser for the 1970 film "Tora! Tora! Tora!" in which his character was played by actor Carl Reindel. In the 2001 movie "Pearl Harbor," actor Ben Affleck played a character based on Gen. Taylor, although he was not consulted and considered the film "a piece of trash . . . over-sensationalized and distorted," according to his son.
"My dad was modest and retiring about all this," his son said. "I have picked up what I know about it in snippets over the years. He was always self-conscious about people making a big deal of it, and he wanted to be remembered as a good husband, a good provider and a good citizen."
Survivors, in addition to his son of Green Valley, Arizona, include his wife of 64 years, Flora Love Morrison Taylor of Tucson; a daughter, Tina Hartley of Mercer Island, Washington; and three grandchildren.
General Taylor was laid to rest in Arlington
National Cemetery on 28 June 2007.