Harold “Had” Taylor is thin and only slightly stooped with age. At 87 years he still has a presence, speaking clearly and with force, enunciating the words that tell his story, reinforced by his quick mind and vivid recall. He spoke at a recent writing group meeting in honor of POWs, relating an intensely interesting history of the times and that fateful flight of April 12, 1944, a day that changed his life forever.
Two members of that fateful flight did not make it out of the explosion that tore the B-24 Liberator out of the sky. One of these men was clearly seen and able, and was spoken to by other members of the crew. Reading between the lines of Had’s narrative, it is easy to see that this individual still haunts Had. The man was a military photographer, hopping a ride to access bomb damage. At least four spoke to him, including Had, telling him to jump as he just stood there. Had thinks, in retrospect, that he may have had hypoxia, numbing the normal processes of the mind.
Imagine the terror. The “box” of six planes was “tail-end Charlie” in a massive mission to Bad Voslau. Of course when you are a tail gunner, you are “tail-end tail-end Charlie,” strapped inside a bubble, suspended above earth, unable to affect one’s fate. It offered a terrifying view of the squadron of ME-110 German fighters that swept below and around to line up on this small lagging element. Hit by rockets, not machine gun fire, the huge plane shuddered and engine four burst into flame. There were only seconds to release himself from his gear, and shuffle forward with the shrapnel wound Had had received in his leg. All made it out except for the co-pilot and the photographer. The pilot was blown out of his seat but survived.
In a short span of two minutes they were hit, they managed to jump, and Had looked up as first the wing exploded, and then the plane. A year-long test of his will remained as a POW. His incarceration is another story. This year when you are enjoying Christmas, and food and family, remember what some sacrificed and gave to preserve the freedoms that so many take for granted today.
Written by Dean O. Muehlberg, Black Hills Veterans Writing Group, shortly before Had's passing on November 17, 2010.
Be sure to read the other story about Had.