David Lavis Taylor V, USMC Vietnam Vet
"Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less." - General Robert E. Lee
His mom was my Aunt Edith, three years older than my dad. When I was growing up, we only saw them once or twice a year, so I never knew much about David except that he was nearly four years older, good looking and always kind. In 1960, we had a family reunion in Ten Sleep, Wyoming where our parents were born. All seven siblings and their 19 children (three weren't born yet) drove from California; we camped in a circle of tents on the west side of the Big Horn Mountains. It was the 4th of July because our reunions occurred on that date since it was my grandparent's anniversary. After the parade, there was a street dance. My cousin, David, was 14. In a town of 80 or so people, there was no one for him to dance with. I was ten years old and had never been to a dance. When David confidently marched over to me and asked me to dance, I must have looked like a deer in the headlights; I was shy and immediately looked to my mom for an answer. She said, "Go on, dance with your cousin." So, my first dance with a boy, I owe to my cousin David. Because of David's dad, Uncle Dave, that trip was also my first fishing experience. Uncle Dave took a bunch of us kids fishing. He was calm, kind and a good teacher. Those traits were carried on in his son, David, who was a fisherman throughout his life and taught his children the same. When teaching his daughter to fish, he was always a stickler for the proper terminology; it was a fishing rod, not a fishing pole. When she slipped once and called it a pole, he walked over to a tree and broke off a branch. "This is a pole," he said.
These stories sum up only part of who David was - he was kind, liked to have fun and loved to fish - but there was more to David than this. Several years ago, he wrote his life story up to that point, and Laurie, his daughter, has shared it and his letters from Vietnam with me, as well as some of her memories.
David L. Taylor VI was born on Feb. 16, 1946, the second child born to Edith and Dave Taylor. His sister, Nancy, was two. They lived in the small town of Crockett, which had no hospital, so he was born in Visalia, California. David's father had met his mother when they both worked for the phone company in San Luis Obispo, where his mother had lived since 1935 when she was 13. After their marriage in June of 1942, David's dad made his lifetime career with the phone company and each time he was promoted it meant a move. David's first two years involved moves from Crockett to Chico then to Watsonville in 1948. They built a small house behind his paternal grandparent's home; David remembers these years fondly, from 1948 to 1955, with memories of his grandparents and of country living. He lived the typical life of a boy growing up in the fifties: riding goats, catching frogs and turtles, climbing trees, playing on a freshly poured cement foundation after being told not to, riding on his grandmother's treadle sewing machine, stealing apples and pumpkins from the neighbor's orchard, getting his finger stuck in the washing machine wringer, listening to his grandmother's stories, and accidentally catching a field on fire when playing with matches with his friends. His younger sister, Joyce, was born there in 1951.
When Joyce was a toddler, there was a tub of water in the back yard and she fell in headfirst, unable to get out. David was about seven at the time. He immediately pulled his sister out of the water, saving her life. Below is a before and after picture of the incident. For a couple of years when Joyce was preschool age, she and David shared a bedroom. She would get bloody noses a lot at night. Since David was a Boy Scout, he knew how to handle it and would tell his mother what to do. Joyce's favorite memories of her brother were, like these two incidents, that he was always there to protect her. They never got in arguments or fights and what she remembers most about her brother is that he was always thinking of other people.
After 1955, during the next four years, they moved from Watsonville to Visalia, to Belmont, to Modesto and then to Salinas where they settled for three years when David was in the 8th through 10th grades. He belonged to a church youth group where he made friends. He attended Salinas High School and was on both the freshman football and wrestling teams. However, he soon discovered he had no talent in either and sat on the bench, never played in one football game and only wrestled in a couple of matches. He had slightly better luck when, as a sophomore, he tried baseball. Again, he was a bench warmer until they were shorthanded one game and the coach put him in. He had the good luck to catch a fly ball while playing right field, and he was a base hitter his only time at bat.
In 1961, his dad was promoted again, and the family moved to Carmichael in Sacramento, leaving his older sister behind in Watsonville because she had graduated from high school, fell in love and was about to get married. She stayed with friends until her wedding. David attended Loma Linda High School for his junior and senior years; he joined the school choir, and tried wrestling again, this time earning a sports letter.
After graduating high school in 1964, David attended Sacramento State College and though he had no clear idea of what he wanted to do, he had a slight notion to work as a fish and game biologist; the problem with that was he had no interest in studies and ended up on academic probation. During his second year, he was still uninterested and dropped out in the spring of 1966, with a plan his parents weren't too thrilled with. The draft numbers were increasing, sending many young men off to the Vietnam War. David didn't feel right being in school while his peers were out fighting a war. He made the decision to enlist.
On June 19, 1966, David enlisted into the United States Marine Corps at the San Diego Recruit Depot. Unlike his college classes, he took to this with dedication and resolve. During boot camp he was determined to take nothing personally; he knew they were tough for a reason - to prepare for war. Due to his discipline and attitude, he was quickly selected as a squad leader. Our Uncle Guy (my dad's and David's mom's brother) had been a USMC Sergeant Major, lived nearby and proudly attended his nephew's graduation.
His Infantry Training Regiment (ITR) took place at Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, CA, where he was quickly selected as the Third Platoon Guide, which, in his words,"...is like being a senior person or supervisor, but without any authority." At the end of this training, he was promoted to Private First Class.
From there he was sent to basic aircraft school in Memphis, on track to become an air traffic controller. It was there that he met his closest friend for the next couple of years, Dennis Hearty. They were both assigned to air traffic control (ATC) school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. He spent 20 weeks there, and it was the most enjoyable of his four years in the Marine Corps.
He and Dennis were both assigned to the same Air Traffic Control Unit (MATCU) at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina. This was an inactive unit and to pass the time, David and Dennis both bought motorcycles. David's dad told him "Be careful. Motorcycles and longevity are not conducive to one another." But it fell on David's 20-year-old deaf ears. Luckily, he had no accidents and before long, David and Dennis needed a bigger challenge. They both requested a transfer to Vietnam. His parents were even less thrilled with this than the motorcycle, but David felt this is what Marines were supposed to do.
They were scheduled to depart for Vietnam on November 5, 1967, but David's orders were delayed so the two of them ended up being sent to different locations. David departed Travis Air Force Base on November 9th and arrived in Okinawa on November 11th. Because his orders had been lost, he spent three weeks there but was finally sent to Da Nang, where, when he got off the plane, troops were waiting to get on to go home. He remembers their comments, "Get back on," and "You'll be sorry."
Eventually, he arrived at his assignment - MATCU 63 at Dong Ha Combat Base, which was 12 miles south of the DMZ and about the same distance from the South China Sea. His welcome was a motor attack immediately after he got off the plane. Being the lowest ranking enlisted man (Lance Corporal E-3), he was given mess duty. He made many friends by bringing them goodies from the kitchen. A month later he was rewarded with the job he was trained to do - control aircraft. The base was situated in an area of low hills and from his control tower he could see the artillery rounds impacting the DMZ and the surrounding area. Dong Ha was a supply hub for U.S. forces in the area. Failure to defeat attacks by the enemy would result in dire consequences for the war effort.
Because the runway was short, they only had cargo planes, observation planes and helicopters, no fighter planes. They were close to the fighting and received incoming fire frequently. One night, a bunker about 500 yards in front of their base, was occupied by the Republic of Vietnam troops (ARVN) and their M-60 machine gun was turned on them, causing the air traffic controllers like David to drop to the ground. Luckily the Recon Marines went to work and within 30 seconds it was over.
On January 31st, 1968, the date of the TET offensive, their base was attacked with a sudden and continuous barrage of artillery and rocket fire. Their runway and living quarters were attacked. It was about this time that David's friend, Dennis, asked for a transfer to the same base.
At the end of April, the 320th Division of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), with 8 to 10 thousand men, attacked a mile from Dong Ha, resulting in a three-day battle fought by the 3rd Marine Division, Battalion 2/4, consisting of 652 men, that in the words of Lt. Col. Jack Deichman, "was arguably the most tenacious and significant battle of the Viet Nam War." They had the attitude that failure was not an option, and they defeated the enemy despite the odds. David must have witnessed much of this from his control tower.
According to David's records, on June 20th, 1968, exactly two years after he had enlisted, enemy fire hit their ammunition dump at Dong Ha, igniting their store of explosives. The explosions began around 4 p.m. and rocked the base with gigantic mushroom shaped explosions all through the night and into the next morning. They had to abandon their living area and take shelter behind the barrel revetments at the runway. Debris landed on the runway which was a mile from the explosion site. Their living area had been heavily damaged. Below is David's picture of the event. David wrote home, "Sometimes I feel older than 22."
David also wrote, "It makes me sick to my stomach and I almost want to cry when I see the corpsman load body bags on the planes. You see young kids with no darn business being over here. They should be home going to parties, having fun, and just being kids." He wrote this just 16 days after my maternal uncle, Edward August Schultz, was killed at age 21, in Hoc Mon, in the lower part of Vietnam; a devastating loss to our family, which I share in my book, The Box, a Memoir.
Although David hated witnessing this and knew his own death could be imminent, he despised the war protestors back home. He wanted the war to end, but not the way they wanted it. He wrote, "We are never going to win if we do not declare war. Presently we are just losing men and money and gaining nothing."
In November 1968, David's friend, Dennis, returned home and though David missed his buddy, his own journey home began December 1, 1968. He never saw Dennis again, but they corresponded for several years before losing touch. As David flew into Travis AFB on December 5th, he felt at home when he saw the California coast from the air, and when his parents and sister, Joyce, greeted him upon landing. It seemed surreal to be in a combat zone one day and home a few days later. In his words, "It was truly an experience of being in two different worlds."
He didn't remember any negative comments when he stepped into this world, he wasn't spit on or called a "baby killer". However, his sister, Joyce, recalls that she heard some booing as the soldiers stepped off the plane. His family was proud of him even if they weren't in support of this war and they were so glad to have him home safely, at 22 years old. In this picture, his mom is on the right and his two sisters are on the left.
He was then stationed in Santa Ana, CA at the Marine Corps Air Station, a helicopter facility, for his next 18 months of duty, while he lived in Newport Beach. Quite the change from Vietnam. At this time, he was a corporal but was soon promoted to sergeant (E-5). Our Uncle Guy, the retired USMC Sergeant Major, owned a nearby boat shop, "Sarge's Barge," and David spent most of his free time working in Uncle Guy's boat repair shop. Through Uncle Guy and Aunt Ginny, David met his first wife, Linda Carlson, and they were married after his discharge from the Marines in June of 1970.
Two days after their July wedding, David began his career with Pacific Bell, following his father's footsteps. He and Linda had two children, Laura and David Taylor Vl, born in 1971 and 1973. They spent years, as his dad had done, moving from one California town to another, wherever his promotions or job changes took him - from Modesto to Madera to Fair Oaks to Chico to Pleasanton in 1983. After this move, David and Linda divorced but David remained close with his children, who were approaching teen years. He returned to college, this time earning both a B.A. and M.S. from the University of San Francisco in Organizational Development. He took an interest in Tae Kwon Do, earned a black belt and started teaching it. He taught it to both his son and daughter.
In 1988, David bought a home in San Ramon, close to his children, with his new girlfriend, Patty DeLapp, and they married in 1991; both retired from Pacific Bell the same year. David had started as a lineman and had worked up to supervision and management during his 22 years with them. Once he retired, David began a Business Consultant business, specializing in employment issues, travelling the country on assignments. Later, when his children were grown, he and Patty moved to Oregon. It's there, in Merlin, where he became involved in Cowboy Action Shooting, the main sport of the Single Action Shooting Society, and at one point was president of the club. For their events, he dressed like a cowboy and reenacted cowboy shootings. His moniker was Ten Sleep Good Guy (Ten Sleep was where our parents were born).
David spent much of his later years camping and fishing with his children and his parents. He was a dedicated son, husband and father. One of his daughter's favorite memories of her dad is that because she was taking French in high school, on her 15th birthday, he took her to a local French restaurant and asked the waiter to only speak French. She also shared that when she was pregnant with her first child, complications required rest; after her husband left for work each morning, David showed up to make her breakfast, clean the kitchen and then take a walk together. He would then prepare lunch, clean up and leave so she could nap before her husband came home. He did this five days a week for three weeks until his granddaughter, Sarah, was born. That is who David was.
His older sister, Nancy, had passed away suddenly of an aneurism in 1988. His mother passed away in 2008, then in 2011, David's wife developed cancer and as he cared for her, his father passed away. David needed a respite, so seven months after his father's passing, he took his son on a trip to his father's favorite fishing place at Rocky Point in Oregon. They had a wonderful, much needed fishing weekend. David brought along his father's ashes and while out on the boat, he sprinkled them into the river his dad loved so much. Below is a picture of the three generations of David Taylors.
Eight days later, at age 65, David died suddenly and unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage. His wife died shortly thereafter. In his last letter to his sister, Joyce, he wrote, "You are one of my best friends and I'm glad I saved you when you were little."
David Lavis Taylor V had a family history going back in America to at least the Revolutionary War on his dad's side and to the 1600s on his mom's side. He was proud of the long line of David Taylors, and that one of them had fought in the Revolutionary War. David was not only a proud and dedicated Marine, but just as importantly, he was a dedicated son, husband, father, and grandfather of Laurie's two children, Sarah and Jason Roach.
Although David wasn't even sure he supported the reason for the Vietnam War, he absolutely supported the war effort. He wrote, "I was a serviceman, and my job was to go where I was sent and do my job to the best of my ability." And that he did.