Second Lieutenant Lawrence Coburn Taylor


Insignia of VMF-212, “The Hell Hounds”

Service Number: O-007513

Birth and Early Life:
Lawrence Taylor was born in Santa Ana, California, on May 12, 1920. He grew up in California, attended UC Berkeley where he starred on the football team pledged Zeta Psi, and planned a career in the service of his country.

Two views of “Red” Taylor, from the 1939 (left) and 1940 Berkeley Blue and Gold Yearbook.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
On January 14, 1941, Taylor reported for duty at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Oakland. He declared his intention to become a naval aviator, and was sent down to Corpus Christi, Texas, for training. The husky former footballer earned his wings and commission shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Wartime Service:
New Year’s Day 1942 saw Second Lieutenant Taylor detached from his base in Texas and forwarded on to the Second Marine Air Wing in San Diego. From there, he was assigned to the fighter squadron VMF-212 at Ewa Field, Hawaii.

In addition to  his duties as a pilot, Taylor also served as the squadron’s assistant materials officer. He had an explosive encounter with his squadron leader, Captain Harold “Joe” Bauer. Another pilot recounted:

We were standing around [after work] and a guy by the name of Red Taylor, who ended up being my bunkmate… was drinking beer. Joe walked in, and we were all kind of being respectful. He reached over, took the beer can out of Red Taylor’s hand and threw it against the wall. “From now on, you drink water. The party is over! We are going to war. You are going to be the best pilots.” (1)

One day, Bauer gathered his pilots together. He announced that a squadron headed for Guadalcanal – VMF-223 – wanted volunteer reserve pilots to go along. “I’m sure every one of you wants to go,” Bauer growled, “so you’re all volunteers. We’re going to draw cards to see who gets to go.” Red Taylor was one of five men to win the card draw. (2) He was placed on “standby” (or STAD) and on August 21 was landing on Guadalcanal.

Date Of Loss:
Red Taylor was enjoying a rare moment of peace in the early afternoon sun. It was August 24; he had been on Guadalcanal for three days, and he was getting to know some of the VMF-223 pilots. Their commander, Captain John Smith, had already claimed one Zero; two other pilots had made “dead-stick” landings with shot-up engines. For his part, Taylor had flown a patrol over enemy lines, as well as the daily defensive patrol over “Cactus” – the code name for Henderson Field.

The peace was broken by the droning of distant engines. This was “Tojo Time.” (3) Two flights of Japanese bombers, accompanied by a strong fighter escort, were inbound and Captain Marion Carl’s CAP would have its hands full. As if to punctuate the urgency, bombs began to fall near the field’s antiaircraft guns, and speedy Zero fighters raced overhead, strafing the field. Six Marine pilots ran for their parked fighters and fired up the big Pratt & Whitney engines.

F4F-4 Wildcat #02084 coughed, sputtered, and refused to turn over. In the cockpit, Taylor tried frantically to start his engine as the other five pilots bounced down the airstrip and rose into the sky. Furious, he jumped out of the cockpit and began to tinker with the engine himself – and after a few minutes had coaxed it back to life. Finally operational, his Wildcat bounced down the rough runway and climbed towards the fighting.

Red Taylor finally caught up with the flight; he and Lt Cloyd “Rex” Jeans ganged up on a “Kate” bomber and sent it hobbling away from the fight. (4) He turned to find another target, but a Zero was on his tail.

Lieutenant Mel Freeman, a replacement pilot, was the last to see Taylor’s aircraft.

After I made that run on the second bomber, and the Zero made his run on me, I was looking ahead. A Grumman fighter came by, spinning, smoking, partly on fire, I kept hoping someone would bail out but he never did. It was Red Taylor. We had been very good friends. (5)

No trace of Taylor or his aircraft was ever found. He was awarded a posthumous Silver Star for his actions on August 24; the citation reads in part:

Prevented by a faulty engine from taking off with his flight to attack a hostile force of greatly superior strength, 2d Lieutenant Taylor skillfully effected hasty repairs and took off alone…his superb airmanship and dauntless courage under adverse conditions enabled him to destroy one heavy bomber…Taylor’s exemplary conduct and unswerving devotion to duty were an inspiration to the members of his squadron and in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Father, Mr. Lawrence H. Taylor

Status Of Remains:
Unknown

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
USS Lawrence C. Taylor (DE-415)
Taylor Field on Efate
_____
NOTES:
(1) Mel Freeman, quoted in Astor, Gerald. Semper Fi In The Sky pg. 69.
(2) Ibid, pg. 71
(3) Lundstrom, John B. First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign pg 117. Without radar and with limited fuel and ammunition, the pilots were kept on alert until a raid was imminent. A Combat Air Patrol (CAP) was flown during “Tojo Time” – when a raid was most likely. Pilots in the air would try to hold off the attackers until the rest of the squadron could be scrambled.
(4) Hammel, Eric. Carrier Clash pg. 214.
(5) Astor, pg. 78.

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