With the Labor Day Holiday I need to make a slight departure to tell a story I promised last week. Kenneth Taylor was one our hometown heroes. Shortly after his birth in Enid, Oklahoma, Taylor’s father, Joe M. Taylor, moved his family to Hominy, Oklahoma, where Taylor graduated high school in 1938. He entered the University of Oklahoma as a pre-law student in the same year and joined the Army Air Corps two years later. He graduated from aviation training at Brooks Field near San Antonio, Texas on April 25, 1941. He was assigned to Wheeler Army Airfield in Honolulu, Hawaii, and began flying two weeks later.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Taylor spent the night before playing poker and dancing at the officers’ club at Wheeler with fellow pilot George Welch, and did not go to sleep until 6:30 a.m. local time. Taylor and Welch awoke less than an hour and a half later at 7:55 a.m. to the sounds of low-flying planes, machine-gun fire, and explosions. Lt. Taylor quickly put on his tuxedo pants from the night before and called Haleiwa Auxiliary Air Field, where eighteen P-40B fighters were located. Without orders, he told the ground crews to get two P-40s armed and ready for takeoff. The new Buick he drove was strafed by Japanese aircraft as the two pilots sped the 10 miles to Haleiwa; Taylor at times reached speeds of 100 mph. At the airstrip, they climbed into their Curtiss P-40B War hawk fighters, which were fueled but armed with only .30 cal Browning ammunition.
Although the two pilots were outnumbered six-to-one, they immediately began firing on the dive bombers. Taylor shot down two dive bombers and was able to damage another (the third damaged aircraft was considered Taylor’s first probable kill). When both pilots ran out of ammunition, they headed for Wheeler Field to get additional .50 cal ammunition. Once he was on the ground, several officers told Taylor and Welch to leave the airplanes, but the two pilots were able to convince the officers into allowing them to keep fighting.
While his plane was being reloaded with the .50 cal, a flight of dive bombers began strafing Wheeler. The men who were loading the ammunition on Taylor’s plane left the ammunition boxes on his wing as they scattered to get away from the bombers. Taylor quickly took off, jumping over an armament dolly and the ammunition boxes fell off of his plane’s wing. Both pilots realized that if they took off away from the incoming aircraft they would become targets once they were airborne, so both headed directly towards the bombers at take-off. Additionally, if the low-flying bombers attempted to fire at the grounded P-40s at their current elevation, they would risk crashing. Taylor used this hindrance to his advantage and began immediately firing on the Japanese aircraft as he took off, and performed a chandelle.
Taylor headed for a group of Japanese aircraft, and due to a combination of clouds and smoke, he unintentionally entered the middle of the formation of seven or eight Japanese. A Japanese rear-gunner from a dive bomber fired at Taylor’s aircraft and one of the bullets came within an inch of Taylor’s head and exploded in the cockpit. One piece went through his left arm and shrapnel entered his leg. Taylor reflected on the injuries in a 2001 interview, saying “It was of no consequence; it just scared the ‘heck’ (Gary Translation) out of me for a minute.”
The Zero and the rest of its formation soon broke off the pursuit and left to return to their carriers as Taylor neared Welch. Taylor continued to fire on several Japanese aircraft until he ran out of ammunition. Both pilots headed back to Haleiwa. After landing and driving back to Wheeler, Taylor and Welch passed by their squadron commander, who noticed that they were wearing their tuxedo attire. Unaware of their earlier dogfights, he shouted at the two men, saying “Get back to Haleiwa! You know there’s a war on?” The two pilots explained what they had done, and the commander thanked them. In a 2003 interview, Taylor reflected on his actions: “I wasn’t in the least bit terrified, and let me tell you why: I was too young and too stupid to realize that I was in a lot of danger.” Born December 1919 Ken passed in November 2006. (thanks to Wikipedia)
Our annual Officer Installation Banquet was last Friday and I will report the details of that event next week.
Our regular meetings are the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month at 7:00 PM (15 September. The Monday morning Koffee Klatch meetings for September Monday’s are still scheduled for biscuits and gravy and always a cup of Joe (coffee to the civilians). Keep your eye on the weather in case things have to be postponed. If you are a veteran come on by. If you have a good story it may end up in print. Also keep up with us at website “americanlegion142.org”.