Everyone’s life has a story. In “Lives,” we tell some of the stories about North Shore people who have died recently. “Lives” runs Mondays in The Salem News.

PEABODY — Keith Taylor could tell you some war stories, even more than most World War II vets. After all, how many guys can say they helped sink two Japanese warships, in crucial battles that marked the turning point in the war against Japan?

Capt. Taylor was a career Navy man, who would go on to master aircraft carriers himself, and play a part in the development of guided missile systems. But all his combat experience, his Naval Academy training, the burden of command, all of it, would turn out to be a mere training exercise for the toughest battle of his life, half a century after VJ Day, when he cared for his wife during her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Taylor died Monday, Aug. 4, at Brooksby Village in Peabody, at the age of 95.

He knew from an early age he wanted to fly, and when a barnstorming pilot came through his hometown of Richmond, Ind., he got his first taste of the aeronautical experience. He and a buddy skipped out of school, and between the two of them had enough money to take one flight.

Two careers were born. The buddy went on to become a vice president of aircraft giant, Boeing, while Taylor would spend 30 years in the Navy in a career he began as the pilot of torpedo planes.

Maybe there was something in the air in Richmond. Taylor graduated from the same high school that Orville Wright had attended some 45 years earlier. In his own way, Taylor was as much a pioneer as the Wright brothers.

While aircraft had been launched from ships as early as World War I, aircraft carriers didn’t come to dominate the oceans until the next great war.

After graduating from Annapolis, Taylor served seven years aboard a number of vessels, but as war with Germany and Japan became nearly certain, the Navy began heavily recruiting pilots. Taylor volunteered, and took his training in Pensacola, Fla.

In 1940 he had wed Augusta Schoenky, of Beverly, who was the sister of his roommate at the Naval Academy. Hopefully, Augusta knew what she was in for — over the course of 24 of Taylor’s years of service, the family would move 22 times, son Keith Taylor said.

War time

Taylor’s first wartime posting was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. One of the ship’s early raids on a port in New Guinea illustrates how far Naval aviation has come.

To reach their targets, pilots had to cross the Owen Stanley mountain range, at an elevation of about 11,000 feet.

“They were using a National Geographic map,” son Keith said. “It was all they had.”

During one of those raids, Taylor dropped a torpedo that sank a Japanese destroyer.

It may not have been apparent at the time, but May 1944 marked the beginning of the end for Imperial Japan. At the Battle of the Coral Sea, America suffered more damage than the Japanese, but dissuaded the Japanese from invading New Guinea.

It was the first naval battle in history in which the combatant ships never were in sight of one another nor directly fired on each other. All of the action was in the air, as each side sought to sink the other’s ships, and Taylor was one of three pilots to land a direct hit on the aircraft carrier Shokaku, knocking it out of action.

In the ‘it’s a small world after all category,” son Keith also attended the Naval Academy. During the annual midshipmen voyage to Japan, he met a Japanese officer who appeared to be about his dad’s age.

After the introductions, Keith asked the officer what ship he had served aboard.

When he replied, “the Shokaku,” Keith said, “My father put a torpedo in your ship.”

“He probably saved my life,” the Japanese officer replied. “I probably would have been at Midway.”

Toughest battle

After the war, Taylor would go on to command a number of vessels, including the fleet aircraft carrier Shangri-La.

In retirement, he became a vice president with Wells Fargo Bank, and served on a number of public service groups.

He and his beloved Augusta also traveled frequently, but that came to an end in the early 1990s, as she began exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

As it progressed through the first five years, Taylor was her sole caregiver, and in typical fashion, son Keith said he insisted it was his duty.

“He was incredibly devoted to my mother,” he said. “He used to say, ‘This is much more difficult than attacking Japanese aircraft carriers.’ It was the hardest thing he ever did.”

When Augusta finally had to be placed in a nursing home, Taylor was there with her every day. After her death, he moved to Brooksby Village to be closer to Keith and his family.

Taylor may have had youthful dreams of flight, but his wartime service apparently fulfilled them.

“He always considered himself more a naval commander than an aviator,” Keith said, and he never flew simply for pleasure after he left the service.

It was a West Point man, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who first uttered the phrase, but Keith said it fit his father to a T.

“Duty, honor, country,” he said. “He had an incredible sense of duty and honor.”

Staff writer Steve Landwehr can be reached at 978-338-2660 or by e-mail at slandwehr@salemnews.com.

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