Another Oklahoma WWII Hero

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Another Oklahoma WWII Hero
by Dick Hefton

In a “Reflection” last year, I related the story of the 15-year-old neighbor, Guy Fuller (the one who laid on me the shocking news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.) shortly thereafter, Fuller left for combat till wars end, a hero fighting in some of the most notorious battles in Europe. He returned home to marry, raise a family, finish Oklahoma University Medical School and win a “medal of honor” as he delivered some 7,000 Oklahoma babies over his career.

Some three hours before Guy Fuller injected in me the “change forever of the world we knew,” a 21-year-old Kenneth M. Taylor of Hominy, Oklahoma, joined his comrade to become the first US Air Corp pilots in the air to engage and shoot down enemy aircraft. The heroic ordeal both Lt. Taylor and Lt. George Welch faced virtually alone was against some 300-enemy aircraft, because due to the ongoing mayhem in the harbor it took hours before fighters from other bases on the island of O’ahu could make it airborne.

On the first engagement the two expended all their ammo and ran down their fuel, they recovered to reload and repeated another full mission accounting for eight downed Japanese warplanes. Together their” Kills” interrupted enemy tactical plans which later proved to have saved critically strategic targets which became costly oversights for the Japanese later in the war, yet while they saved many lives on that infamous day. Welch ended the day with 4 confirmed kills. Taylor shot four down but two were not credited. On Taylor’s last sortie he took enemy fire in his arm and shrapnel from fire in a leg yet he fought till ammo and fuel forced him down. Taylor would add a pair to his credit fighting later in the South Pacific but later battle injury would end his combat roll. Welch, with his four victories missed making “Ace” (5 kills) that first day and it would be another two years before he earned that enviable title of Ace. In all, he ended his war flying a total 350 missions and became a triple ace.
The slapstick manner which placed the two young pilots “stage Center” in the eye of world on an epoch precipice it would have been the material for comic and romantic theatre.
Taylor and Welch had been sleeping off a black-Tie formal at their officer’s club that Saturday night, after ending the party with a barracks style poker game. Awakened by the bombings, they would do their fighting in the remnants of their formalwear! You can see the Hollywood treatment of their famous day on several big screen sensationals, such as, Pearl Harbor or Tora, Tora, Tora. (Taylor was a technical advisor on one of the productions. It is said he thought the results “a bunch of trash!”

Both heroes were highly decorated and may have been considered for the Medal of Honor, but it is said passed over because superiors maintained they had taken off without proper authorization? Taylor was inducted in the Oklahoma Aviation Hall of Fame.

I never had a chance to cross paths with Kenneth Taylor. He stayed on duty for a number of years after the war and finished his service as commanding general of the Alaska Air National Guard. (His son later held the same assignment in Alaska. Over years I made occasional makeups with the Anchorage Rotary Club at the Captain Cook Hotel and found most of their senior Air Force officials were regular members there. Try as we have, we have been unable to confirm the connection for Taylor or his successor son had been on their member rolls?

I became well acquainted with George Welch, however, when stationed near the factory while he was chief test pilot for North American Aircraft (NAA) and he spent time flying with us in the F-86 Sabre aircraft and later as we took assignment of the first new F-100 supersonic Super Sabre. Welch was killed in a test flight in the F-100 in 1954.

1 Comments for : Another Oklahoma WWII Hero
    • Bill Paul
    • September 18, 2023

    Great Story and very well written by Dick Hefton

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