February 18, 2017
I was honored to attend the 100th birthday celebration of my patient, Mr. Thomas Taylor, at Community Bible Church in Stockbridge.
Mr. Taylor flew military transports in the Pacific during World War II. After MacArthur and the Americans liberated the Philippine islands, some of his prominent passengers included the Philippine head of state and his family.
After his discharge from the Army Air Corps, Mr. Taylor became a pilot for Southern Airways until his mandatory retirement in 1977. He was the pilot that the Georgia Bulldog football team always requested to fly their charter flights to away football games. On his last flight from Huntsville to Atlanta, one of his passengers was Liberace. When the great pianist learned this was Captain Taylor’s last flight, he treated the entire Taylor family to front row seats at the Fox Theatre for Liberace’s performance that very night.
Captain Taylor and my late father were close friends, as were my late mother and his late wife, Lenora. His daughter, Deborah, and my sister, Claire, were in the same grade. My older brother was friends with his late son, Tommy.
When I was about five, I asked Captain Taylor how much it cost to fly from Atlanta to Miami. When he said $35, I was astounded. I got five cents a pound for picking pecans, and the Griffin Daily News paid about two cents for every paper that got delivered. My brother let me keep the whole nickel for every “extra” I sold. But who could or would pay $35 for a jet ride? The Captain kindly explained to me that businessmen so valued their time that they were glad to pay that much to save time. Back in that era before the interstates, it took about a day and half to drive from McDonough or Griffin to Miami. That day I began to see the value of time.
Although his hearing has diminished in recent years, his mental acuity remains strong. After the Comair Flight 5191 to Atlanta crashed in Lexington a few years ago, he explained to my dental assistant and me why the two runways can be confusing at night. When a jet taxis out from the gate there, the fork on the left goes to the 3,500 foot runway #26 (too short for commercial jets) whereas the 7,000 foot runway #22 has to loop around left but after taking the fork to the right. He remembered the layout of that airport over three decades after flying into it!
We Americans owe so much to these members of The Greatest Generation. Our prosperity and freedoms are the fruits of their bravery and sacrifices. I’m glad I got to show my appreciation.