06 Jul Two WWII Veterans Who Became the Heroes of Pearl Harbor
It was in April 1941 that the US Army Air Corps’ 47th Pursuit Squadron received their first posting in Honolulu, Hawaii. The commanding officer of the squadron chose 21-year-old Ken Taylor and 23-year-old George Welch as his flight commanders. Later that year, just a few weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack, the 47th squadron was moved to an auxiliary airstrip for gunnery practice.
On December 6, 1941, Taylor and Welch spent the evening at a dance and an all-night poker game. According to some sources, the two pilots went to sleep and woke up at 7:51 am when they realized that the Japanese pilots attacked Wheeler. However, some accounts state that the pilots were at an all-night poker game when the Japanese launched their fighter jets towards them.
Despite the circumstances, when the two pilots realized that the Japanese fighter jets have destroyed about two-third of the planes at the main base and Wheeler Field, they slipped into action. Without waiting for any orders from the head office, they commanded the ground crew to prepare their fighter jets for takeoff.
In the meantime, the two pilots, still in their last night tuxedos, drove at 11 mph and reached Haleiwa, where they took off into their P-40s. Though their fighter jets had enough fuel, the planes were not armed enough.
Regardless, they took off and attracted the attention of Japanese jets, which were about 200-300 in number. While the senior officers ordered the pilots to stay on the ground, Welch and Taylor took off again in their fighter jets when the second wave of enemy aircraft flew in.
Even though they did not had much ammunition, Taylor was officially credited for two kills and Welch with four kills. They also damaged several enemy aircraft during the mission.
Both were among the only five American pilots who managed to land safely and engage with the Japanese in the morning. They became the first to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross during WWII. Taylor also received a purple heart for his injury.
Credit: U.S. Army Signal Corps collection