The One in Charge
Written & Illustrated by
Gracie Ryckaert & Kenzie Reimers
Pearl Harbor Survivor
The One in Charge is now available on Amazon.
Alvis M. Taylor was born on March 18, 1923 in Caldwell, Texas. His mother worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). His father, William, was a World War I Veteran who worked odd jobs, including owning a restaurant, where ten-year-old Alvis worked as a cook. William became famous in Caldwell because he was a bootlegger (someone who makes and sells moonshine whiskey illegally).
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 enough food to eat for the families. Al remembered cleaning up at the meat market to get bologna to take home to his family because they were starving. He was also a paper boy, so he earned a little money for the family there. When Al was twelve years old, his sister lied about something, and their father whipped Al with a belt. Al couldn't stand living with abuse, so he left home.
As a homeless young man, he traveled fifty miles to Bellville to stay with his friend Eldridge whose father was the town marshal. Al got work as a night watchman. By age sixteen, Al yearned to be in the Army. He was too young to join up, 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. This is where he was 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 needed 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. 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. Al 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) in Mississippi. Al Taylor 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.
Note from Deb Bowen: I went with the girls when they interviewed Al to begin writing his book. It became evident to all of us that he lived with painful memories of that fateful day in December so long ago. Now that I have helped students interview several WWII Veterans, I know the men who worked triage second guess the decisions they made. Everything happened so fast and afterward, they wonder if they made the right call.
Also, I felt that Al's being on his own as a young teen may inspire homeless teens today. Al had a successful military career followed by a successful civilian career with the United States Army.