Rockridge Junior High students Grace Ryckaert and Kenzie Reimers had the honor of meeting WWII veteran Alvis Taylor. We listened carefully as he told us his story of growing up in Texas as the son of a bootlegger. He talked about starving during the Great Depression. He had a lucky break when he was able to sweep up at the meat market and get a ring of bologna each day to help feed the family. His father beat him with a belt when he was twelve-years-old. Al knew he couldn't live with this abuse and he left home.
Fortunately, Al had a friend whose family was willing to take him in. That's where he stayed until he signed up to go into the Army at sixteen. He lied about his age, and by the time he was eighteen-years-old, he was working as a medic when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. His superiors were all doctors who went straight to the hospital to help the wounded. Al had the great responsibility of calling the ambulances and prioritizing which patients needed to go first.
Al's story continued with a very successful military career and then more success as a civilian working for the US Army. I wish the two students who are telling this story well. It's an important one that should not be forgotten. Also, one that will inspire students who are down on their luck. Maybe they have a father who has been in jail or their family doesn't have enough money for food.
I couldn't help but think about the students today who have left home for similar reasons Al did so long ago. Their parents are drug addicts who beat them or parents who just don't care at all. Our schools are filled with students who are "couch surfing" at a friend's home. My heart tells me that these kids would be encouraged by Al's story. I'm excited to see it written and illustrated by these two fine young ladies. They will never forget the time they met Al Taylor.
Alvis M. Taylor was born on March 18, 1923 in Caldwell, Texas. His mother was a housewife and took care of the children. His father worked odd jobs, including owning a restaurant, and ten-year-old Alvis worked as a cook alongside him. William became famous in Caldwell because he was a bootlegger. A bootlegger is someone who makes and sells moonshine whiskey illegally. He was arrested and sentenced to six months in jail but only spent three months there.
The children in the Taylor family grew up during the Great Depression. It was a time when there were not enough jobs for the men or food to eat for the families. Al remembered cleaning at the meat market to get bologna to take home for his family to eat because they were starving. He was also a paper boy so he earned a little money there. He delivered papers and mail with his friend, Eldridge Bartay. When Al was twelve-years-old, his sister lied about something and their father whipped Al with a belt. He couldn't stand living with abuse so he left home. As a homeless young man, he traveled fifty miles to Bellville to his friend Eldridge where he was able to stay. Eldridge's father was the town marshal and Al worked as a night watchman. Al met Mary, who would become his wife while he was in the Bellville, TX hospital with a gunshot wound. He had shot himself by accident.
Al worked as a carpenter making furniture for Mary's uncle. Also, he worked in a tailor shop to make ends meet. By the time he was sixteen years old, Al yearned to be in the Army. He was too young but he decided to lie about his age. He joined in 1939. After basic training, he was assigned to the Army Medical Department in Hawaii. He was in the 11th Medical Regiment and 24th Medical Battalion, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He was in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Oahu on December 7, 1941. Here's the account of what happened to eighteen-year-old Al in his own words:
"On the morning of December 7, 1941, upon seeing Japanese planes, I called all of officers, who were all doctors. They went to the Schofield Barracks Hospital to perform surgery on the wounded. I took over upon the orders of Colonel Gates. First, I contacted the First Sergeant of Company A, 19th Infantry (whom I knew well). I had 67 ambulance drivers who were medical technicians but I need 67 orderlies to accompany each driver. He, being alone too, agreed to furnish the orderlies to be picked up on the way to Wheeler and Hickam Fields. For that, I received the Legion of Merit. I felt it was undeserved so I refused. However, it was awarded to me by mail.
The patients from Hickam Field and Wheeler Field were transported to the hospital at Schofield barracks. Later I got a call from the Navy Hospital at Pearl Harbor asking for all the ambulances they could get. I only had 32 ambulances left. The motor pool Sergeant and 1st Sergeant of Company A had just arrived. They sent me to Pearl Harbor with the 32 ambulances. At the Navy hospital I was told to go and pick up the patients on ships and in the water. I cannot describe our ordeal. I will just say we had people subjected to fire in the water and we had to load them in the ambulances. Many were wrapped in saran wrap and various ointments and medicines. Many were near death. We made three trips and transported them to Tripler General Hospital and morgues at Ft Shafter. After that, we were dismissed by the hospital personnel at Pearl Harbor. I returned to Schofield Barracks and returned to my regular duties. We lost four ambulances due to bombing and road debris, however, none of my personnel were injured."
Al's officers, the doctors, worked for two days straight without a break and never lost a patient. There was a brilliant brain surgeon who saved many lives. He was sent to Mississippi and became part of the Transportation Corps. He was transferred to Letterkenny Army Depot in Pennsylvania then to Ft Sam Houston in Texas. He married Mary Emma Garrett on December 20, 1942 while on his way to Officer Candidate School (OCS). She and Al had three children Alvis Junior, Cynthia, and Brian. Their son Alvis, Jr was born in Japan. Throughout his career, Al served in the Philippines, Korea, Japan, France, Greenland, California, New York and Illinois. Al saved the United States millions of dollars with his brilliant ideas and negotiations. He was appointed to the Million Dollar Club for ammunition procurement and supply for cost reduction in excess of 25 million dollars in 1970. He received a plaque issued by the Commanding General. He received numerous Letters of Commendation, Achievement Awards and Letters of Appreciation from Assistant Secretary of the Army to Field Commanders for support to the Vietnam effort. He retired from the U.S. Army Command in Rock Island IL in 1980.
Mary passed away on December 18, 2005 after 62 years of marriage. Al married another wonderful woman named Sharon Brown on March 12, 2006. He has overcome many obstacles in his lifetime, both in his childhood and then witnessing one of the worst disasters our country has ever experienced. He gave his life work to serving the country he loves. God bless America.