Kenneth M. Taylor, Brigadier General, USAF (December 23, 1919-November 25, 2006) was a new Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant pilot stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He, along with George Welch, got airborne while under fire and Taylor shot down four Japanese dive bombers. Their experience was one of the sequences shown in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!
Shortly after his birth in Enid, Oklahoma, the Taylors moved to Hominy, Oklahoma. Taylor entered the University of Oklahoma, Norman, as a pre-law student in 1938 and joined the Army Air Corps two years later.
After a night of poker and dancing at the officers' club at Wheeler Army Airfield in Honolulu, Taylor and Welch awoke on the morning of December 7, 1941 to the sound of planes flying low, machine-gun fire and explosions. Lt. Taylor called Haleiwa Auxiliary air field and, without orders, told the ground crews to get two P-40 fighters armed and ready for takeoff.1
Taylor's new Buick was strafed by Japanese aircraft as the two pilots sped the 10 miles to Haleiwa. At the airstrip, they climbed into their Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk fighters, which were fueled but armed with only 30 cal ammo.
After they took off, they arrived over Ewa Mooring Mast Field which was being strafed by dive bombers of the second attack wave.2.
Taylor shot down two dive bombers and landed at Wheeler Field to get some 50 cal ammo, As a flight of dive bombers began strafinng Wheeler, both Welch and Taylor took off again. A Japanese bullet came within an inch of Taylor's head and exploded in the cockpit, with one piece going into his left arm. Air Corps records credit Welch with four kills and Taylor with two, yet new research of Japanese combat reports confirms Taylor got four kills and Welch with two.
For their heroic action on December 7, the U.S. War Dept. in Communiqué No. 19 on December 13, 1941, designated Taylor and Welch as the first two heroes of World War II, and awarded both the Distinguished Service Cross.
After Pearl Harbor
Taylor served the South Pacific at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, and was credited with downing one Japanese aircraft before being injured during an air raid and sent back to the States. He served at various bases stateside during and after the war, including the Pentagon, where he retired as a colonel in 1969. After his Air Force service Taylor was Commander of the Alaska Air National Guard and retired as a brigadier general. Following retirement Taylor worked in the insurance industry in Alaska.
On May 9, 1942, Taylor married Flora Love Morrison of Hennessy, Oklahoma, whom he had met when she was visiting her father in Hawaii. Married for 65 years, the Taylors had two children; a daughter, Tina, son Ken II and several grandchildren. Taylor's son, Ken II, later retired as a brigadier general commanding the Alaska Air National Guard, the same position formerly held by his father.3
Taylor died in 2006 at an assisted living residence in Tucson, Arizona.