‘Walking Time Capsule’
ELIZABETH CITY – As a lanky Gates County farmboy, Cecil Thomas Taylor had the desire to see what was beyond the borders of his rural upbringing in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Little did Taylor know that once he exited the safe confines of Eure, he would be among a limited number of Americans to witness first-hand a day that will live in infamy.
Now, 99 years after his birth and a shade over 78 years removed from the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, it’s still not too late in life to enjoy the accolades of being a part of America’s “Greatest Generation.”
In a packed meeting room of Eureka Lodge #317 in Elizabeth City on the evening of Jan. 27, Taylor was honored two-fold: by the Masons and by current-day U.S. Army members stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
At the age of 21, Taylor was stationed at Schofield Barracks when the Japanese pulled off their surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. A portion of the 360 aircraft launched from Japanese aircraft carriers targeted U.S. Army personnel and equipment located at Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Airfield.
Like most of his comrades that fateful morning, Taylor was just waking up when the attack began.
“My mind was still asleep, but my feet were not….I ran,” said Taylor, recalling the buzz of the Japanese planes and their bullets and bombs raining down.
Then, just a few miles away, he heard and saw the devastating blow the Japanese inflicted on U.S. Navy vessels anchored in Pearl Harbor.
Eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, and three destroyers along with destroying 188 U.S. aircraft.
When it was all over, 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded.
Taylor was fortunately not included on either list.
“God looked after me that day,” he said.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Adam Hallmark, the Public Affairs Officer for the 25th Infantry Division who still makes their home at Schofield Barracks, was among those to salute Taylor at last week’s event. He noted there were 16 million Americans in uniform during World War II. At last estimate there are 300,000 still alive.
“The 25th Infantry Division will celebrate its 80th birthday in 2021. We’re trying to locate our members from all four wars we have been involved in, do a series of interviews with them that we will feature in a documentary next year,” Lt. Col. Hallmark said.
“Mr. Taylor is a walking time capsule,” he added. “Growing up we learned about World War II in school, but to actually meet and talk to someone who was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 is really neat. Just knowing that we shared the same ground all these years apart is neat.
“When he was sharing stories about being at Schofield Barracks, telling us about the grassy area and how you could look in-between the buildings touched home for me because I see those same things when I’m there. It makes the hair stand up on my arms to hear him reminisce,” Hallmark stated.
Scot Hardwick, Master of Eureka Lodge #317, told the crowd that Taylor joined the Army in 1939.
“He had to gain a little bit of weight to join because he was so skinny,” Hardwick remarked. “He arrived in Hawaii in 1940 as part of the 27th Infantry Regiment’s famed ‘Wolfhounds.’ He was almost ready to leave Schofield Barracks in October of 1941. As fate would have it, he was there when the Japanese attacked and he survived.
“I know of only three Pearl Harbor survivors and only one that’s still living who was at Schofield Barracks and that’s Mr. Cecil Taylor. That is why we’re doing what we’re doing tonight; we’re here to honor an American hero,” Hardwick said.
The 27th Infantry Regiment was established by act of Congress on Feb. 2, 1901. Their tenacious pursuit tactics earned them the name “Wolfhounds.” That regiment became part of the 25th Infantry Division in August of 1941.
“To be able to interact with a person who was a part of the activation of the 25th Infantry Division in 1941 and then, just a few months later, was part of a day that lives in infamy is pretty special,” noted Lt. Col. Hallmark, who added that he and two others from Schofield Barracks spent the afternoon of Jan. 27 at Taylor’s home in Gates County where stories were shared.
“It’s hard to put into words what that means to us. The legacy that the 25th carries today was created by Mr. Taylor and his comrades back in 1941,” he added.
Hallmark shared a letter from Major General James B. Jarrard, Commander of the 25th Infantry Division, who thanked Taylor for his service during World War II.
“Please know that we are proud to carry on the standard of excellence that you helped create. We realize that we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” Jarrard said in his letter.
Staff Sgt. James Frye currently serves in the same unit at Schofield Barracks that Taylor did nearly 80 years ago.
“It’s such an honor to meet someone from the greatest generation,” Staff Sgt. Frye remarked. “When I first joined the unit – the “Wolfhounds” – I asked about these old barracks at Schofield. I was told they had bullet holes in them from the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. They are historical landmarks. I became infatuated with that. I tried to imagine what it would have been like….what Mr. Taylor experienced on that day.
“Never did I imagine that I would one day have the opportunity to meet someone who lived through that,” Frye continued. “Listening to his stories were amazing…a step back in time. He ran through the same quad that I walk through every day. He was running from the bullets coming from those Japanese planes. Meeting a ‘Wolfhound” who was there during that attack is so surreal. Being able to take his stories of grit and determination back to my comrades is something I can’t explain how I feel.”
Frye presented Taylor with two military coins, one from Alpha Company and the other from the Command Sgt. Major. Taylor was also presented with other 25th Infantry Division material.
As part of the event, Taylor, who is a member of Gatesville Masonic Lodge #126, was made a member of the National Sojourner’s 1776 Militia Chapter 560. They are an organization consisting of Freemasons who served in the United States Armed Forces.