On October 26, 2019, a man who became a hero on December 7, 1941 was again recognized for his bravery and selflessness in the face of the ferocious Japanese assault. Second Lieutenant Kenneth Taylor succeeded in doing what the attackers had hoped would be an impossible feat: taking to the skies to fight back. For his actions that morning, Taylor was honored as a hero. The Enid, OK native was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame for launching his aircraft in the middle of the assault, and defending Oahu from on high.
December 7, 1941
Before they attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Japanese planes had focused on airfields across Oahu. Kenneth Taylor spent the previous night at the Officers Club at Wheeler Field, dancing and playing cards with his friend George Welch. After less than two hours’ sleep, Taylor was jolted awake by the sounds of the attack.
Without hesitation, Taylor called Haleiwa Field, on Oahu’s North Shore, to have two Curtiss P-40 Warhawks fueled, armed, and ready for him and Welch. Taylor and his friend rushed to the airfield as Japanese pilots strafed their vehicle along the way. Few American aircraft took to the skies that day, but Taylor and Welch were able to launch into the chaos.
They wasted no time firing on the Japanese planes, weaving between machine gun fire. They worked together, covering one another and firing at incoming craft until they ran out of ammunition. Despite orders to remain on the ground after landing at Wheeler, Taylor and Welch’s craft were rearmed and they returned to the fight. To prevent being shot from behind, Taylor took off toward his attackers. In the chaotic fight, a Japanese bullet hit Taylor’s cockpit, injuring him in his left arm and his leg.
Honors for Kenneth Taylor
Kenneth Taylor’s accomplishments on December 7, 1941 followed him through life, as did the 40 combat missions and 100 combat hours he flew in the P-40. After the war ended, he remained in the Air Force until 1967. When he retired from active duty, he joined the Alaska Air National Guard and remained there until retiring as a brigadier general in 1971.
Kenneth Taylor passed away on November 25, 2006, at the age of 86, and his remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery
Over the course of his career, Kenneth Taylor earned a Distinguished Service Cross, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, and Air Medal award. He and Welch were considered ineligible for the highest award, the Medal of Honor, because they took off without orders.
His induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame adds yet another honor to the record of the late hero of the skies over Oahu. Along with Taylor, 12 other veterans were honored at the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame ceremony. The 429 crew lost during the sinking of USS Oklahoma (BB-37) were also memorialized during the induction ceremony.