(Courtesy of the Beachbell Echo, A Publication of the 446th Bomb Group Association, Inc., June 2007, Vol.22 No. 2)


I intended to read the following at the Savannah reunion, but decided it would have taken up too much time. Mary Nell Roos suggested that I send it in to the Beachbell Echo, so here it is:

I want to tell you a little bit about my dad, John A. Taylor. He was a 706th pilot. He never attended a 446th reunion, but he had considered doing so. Not long before he passed away, he wrote the association for reunion information. I think that if he were still alive he would be right here. No one would have enjoyed this more than my dad.

He was born in Wayne County, Mississippi on January 24, 1922. He enlisted August 8, 1940, starting with the 49th Field Artillery at Fort Benning, Georgia. While on maneuvers in Monroe County, Alabama, he met the young lady who would eventually become his wife, and my mother. He served for a time in the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Camp Gordon, Georgia. He applied for Aviation Cadet Training and was accepted in June of 1942. The pilot training he received took him to many of the places some of you might have also been: Nashville, Tennessee; Maxwell Field, Alabama; Jackson, Tennessee; Walnut Ridge, Arkansas; Seymour, Indiana; Smyrna, Tennessee; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Casper, Wyoming. He, and his crew picked up their new Liberator at Topeka, Kansas, and flew the southern route to the ETO, and were assigned to the 706th Squadron on March 30, 1944.

After returning to the states, he instructed Liberator pilots at Courtland, Alabama, and started a family. He was transferred to Tonopah, Nevada, and elsewhere, until he was discharged in 1945. In the reserves he ferried aircraft and flew C-97’s with the Military Air Transport Service. In 1952 he went to Korea and was assigned to B Flight, 6167th Operations Squadron where he was involved in unconventional and psychological warfare. As a Pilot and Instructor Pilot there, he flew 75 combat missions in unarmed C-47s consisting of leaflet drops and loud speaker missions during the day, and Firefly missions and agent drops at night.

I had some knowledge of his involvement in the military from some of the stories he told our family, but I knew there was a great deal more that he had never volunteered. My wife Martha and I knew that we should have been doing something to document his military history. Our intent was to have him tell us whatever he could remember while we recorded it on tape. Unfortunately, I failed to follow-through, and the opportunity was lost. He died, unexpectedly, January 19, 1995; five days before his 73rd birthday.

Since then, I’ve been trying to find out more about his role in the Air Corps. From a few photos, some old letters, and an address book my dad left behind, I was able to locate three men from my dad’s crew: Lucien “Papa” Dion, the navigator; Joe Jurgens, the top turret gunner; and Glynn Larkin, the radio operator. Like so many others who went to war, they did not consider what they did to be anything heroic or out of the ordinary. “We were just doing a job,” they said. These men have been a great source of information. Glynn and Joe had kept notes of the missions, and they told me things about my dad that I would never have known otherwise. It was wonderful to hear these men speak so highly of my dad. In my first conversation with Lucien Dion, he said, “Your father was a great pilot. He was happy-go-lucky; never a grouch. He was the boss. There was never a cross word among any of the crew. We got shot up several times, but your dad always brought us home.” Glynn Larkin wrote in a letter, “Your father was a great pilot and a great man. We all had great faith in him and each other. That helped get us through that mess.”

Like many combat airmen, these three talked mostly about their good experiences. Larkin wrote: “There were some good times. Your father always volunteered to fly crews to the rest home in Southport, and Wilkinson and I were always ready to fly along. Papa Dion said he couldn’t navigate very well down in the weeds, while your father was buzzing haystacks, so he didn’t go very often! Your father was fined once. So that’s not bad for having fun, and the food was better in Southport.” Papa Dion excused the buzzing episodes saying that “sometimes a pilot has to let off a little steam.”

I remember my dad telling of a July 6, 1944 mission when the rudder cables and hydraulic lines were shot out and all the fluid was lost. The engineer/waist gunner tied up the cables. Knowing they would be without brakes when landing, they tied parachutes to the waist guns, and as they touched down, they opened the chutes to slow the plane. My dad thought they should have gotten an award for the chute brake idea, but soon learned that another Liberator crew had used the trick a few days earlier in Italy. Although Larkin’s and Jurgen’s notes list damage to the hydraulic lines and control cables, they do not mention parachutes. Strangely, neither they nor Papa Dion could recall the incident, but I did read an account of it at Maxwell Field, and also in The History of the 446th Bomb Group by Harold E. Jansen.

From May 6 to July 17, 1944, my dad flew 31 missions. In a letter to his mother on the day of his last mission, he wrote, “The crew is in excellent health. As the British say, ‘I have had it.’ My combat days in the Liberator are over.” He and his crew were very fortunate. They had some close calls, but managed to escape physical harm.

I know my dad was a very good pilot, but I am not so naive as to think his flying skills alone saved him. No one survived without the help of others. In the air, there was no thought of “every man for himself”. Papa Dion told me that before they flew their first mission, my dad said, “We are a crew. We’re in this together. If one of us jumps, we all jump.” Not only did each man depend on the others in his crew, each crew depended on the crews of the other ships in the formation. Glynn Larkin said, “Your dad could fly formation like nobody’s business. Flying tight formation was what saved us.” The men in the air also depended on the ground personnel for their safety. Without them, there was no way to get airborne, much less to the target and back.

By now, some of you are probably wondering why I’m up here speaking to you. I have been wondering that too. I am here because my dad came home from the war. Some of you flew earlier, or possibly the same missions as my dad. It may very well be that something one of you did, while up on a mission, enabled my dad and his crew to survive. It may also be possible that one of you were spared because my dad and his crew were “just doing their jobs.” For instance, on the May 17, 1944 raid to Brunswick, Elbert Gabbard, the bombardier, got credit for shooting down a Me-109. On another mission in June, Larkin noted that John J. Brown, the tail gunner, got a probable one. So there was one, and possibly two, fewer 109’s to deal with.

My wife and I have just one child, Mary Amelia. She is 19 years-old and has just completed her second year of college. One of her favorite movies is Frank Capra’s, It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. We like it because it so clearly points out that every man’s actions affect the lives of others. The angel, Clarence Oddbody tells George Bailey, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” You see, all of us here are connected in some way by the events of that time over six decades ago.

Thanks to good research material and a lot of very nice people who were willing to share information, I understand a little better what the air crews endured and what they accomplished during their stay at Flixton. But there are some things I will never know. No matter who I talk to or what I read, I won’t ever know what it was like to go up on a bombing mission. No one, except the men who flew the raids, can ever know. I do know that some of it was bad; so bad that some men spent most of their lives trying to erase the memories.

I thank our Heavenly Father for the 446th members who have passed on and for all who are still with us. Thank you, all of the aircrews, ground personnel, support groups, and the wives, family and friends who wrote letters of encouragement and prayed for your safe return. I thank God for providing the men who made the 446th Bomb Group a success and helped bring the war to an end. I thank you all for your service to our country. And I thank you for helping bring my father home safely.

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