Death and life at Pearl Harbor

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After World War II, Virgil Taylor stayed with the U.S. Navy and became an instructor. He’s seen here (middle) with a group of “boots,” new Navy recruits. (Submitted)

After World War II, Virgil Taylor stayed with the U.S. Navy and became an instructor. He’s seen here (middle) with a group of “boots,” new Navy recruits. (Submitted)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Chief Machinist Mate Virgil Taylor could curse like a sailor long before he became one, long before he was pronounced dead by the U.S. Navy brass, and long before he rose from the grave.

Taylor, who will turn 97 on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, earned the nickname “Toughie” not long after learning to speak in complete sentences.

“I was about six years old, and there were railroad tracks by the house where I grew up in Rapid City, S.D. There were men whose job it was to check the tracks for problems. I would go out an walk with them and they liked to get me to swear,” Taylor said. “I could swear like a trooper.”

Taylor, a new resident at Willamette Lutheran Retirement Community, turns 97 on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Taylor, a new resident at Willamette Lutheran Retirement Community, turns 97 on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

As he grew, words turned into fists as Taylor and a friend learned grown ups would throw pennies at them if they threw down.

“We would come out from opposite sides of a building and pick fights with each other on the sidewalk,” Taylor said. “There were times we drew blood.”

In his late teens, Taylor was working in mines making $150 to $200 a month and growing frustrated with his inability to save a dime. He hoped to begin attending college like his sister, Peggy, and study accounting.

Taylor enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938 and began sending his paychecks to his mother, building up savings to take with him into college. That’s what put him on the USS California on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor. Taylor was manning the throttle when the attack by the Japanese began.

“The throttle had a big persuader bar that I usually had to have two other people help me turn to open it up,” Taylor said. “The day of the attack, I got my feet up over my head and pushed off the wall. I turned it by myself. That’s what adrenaline will do.”


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