Ken Taylor: The Reluctant Hero

George Welch
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Lt. Welch
Medal Efforts
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Lt. George Welch and His Heroism at Pearl Harbor

George and parents at the White House on May 25, 1942.

   Lt. Welch (in Army uniform) with top Hollywood starlets of the day including, from counter clockwise, Claudette Colbert, Carole Landis, Betty Grable (top pinup girl of World War II) and Ruth Hussey. Photo in July 13, 1942 issue of Life Magazine, taken June 28, 1942, in Hollywood, at the end of a cross-country publicity tour by American and British heroes.
          DSC Citation for Second Lt. George S. Welch
   GEORGE S. WELCH, Second Lieutenant , 47th Pursuit Squadron, 15th Pursuit Group, Air Corps, United States Army.
   For extraordinary heroism in action over the Island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, and waters adjacent thereto, Demember 7, 1941. When surprised by a heavy air attack by Japanese Forces on Wheeler Field and vicinity at approximately 8 a.m., he left Wheeler Field and proceeded by automobile, under fire, to Haleiwa Landing Field, a distance of approximately ten miles, where the planes of his Squadron were stationed. He immediately, on his own initiative, took off for the purpose of attacking the invading Japanese aircraft in attacking force, and proceeded to his initial point over Barbers Point. At time of take off he was armed only with caliber .30 machine guns. Upon arrival over Barbers Point he observed a formation of approximately twelve planes over Ewa, about one thousand feet below and ten miles away. Accompanied only by one other pursuit ship, he immediately attacked this enemy formation and shot down an enemy dive bomber with one burst from three caliber .30 guns. At this point he discovered that one caliber.30 gun was jammed. While engaged in combat his plane was hit by an incendiary bullet, which passed throught the baggage compartment just in the rear of his seat. He climbed above the clouds, checked his plane, returned to the attack over Barbers Point, and immediately attacked a Japanese plane running out to sea, which he shot down, the plane falling into the ocean. No more enemy plans being in sight he proceeded to Wheeler Field to refuel and replenish ammunition. Just as refueling and reloading were completed but before his guns had been repaired, a second wave of about fifteen enemy planes approached low over Wheeler Field. Three came at him and he immediately took off, headed straight into the attack, and went to the assistance of a brother officer, who was being attacked from the rear. This enemy plane burst into flames and crashed about half way between Wahiawa and Haleiwa. During this combat his plane was struck by three bullets from the rear gun of the ship he was attacking. One strikikng his motor (sic), one the propeller and one the cowling. This attack wave having disappeared, he returned to the vicinity of Ewa and found one enemy plane proceeding seaward, which he pursued and shot down about five miles off shore, immediately thereafter returning to his station at Halleiwa Landing Field. Lieutentant WELCH'S initiative, presence of mind, coolnes (sic) under fire against overwhelming odds in his first battle, expert maneuvering of his plane, and determined action contributed to a large extent toward driving off this sudden unexpected enemy air attack. Address: Care of the Adjutant General, 
Washington, D.C. Entered Military Service from Delaware.  
   Note: What is striking about George Welch's citation is that it runs about three times as long as the Medal of Honor citations for the 15 Navy men who were recipients for heroism on Dec. 7, 1941.
   Another striking feature of the citation is the elaborate detail of Welch's plane taking fire from the Japanese. Considering the amount of the damage described in the citation, it's intersting that there is no mention of it in either of the highly regarded Prange books on Pearl Harbor or the official Air Force history.  
   This description is even more interesting because Taylor did take fire and was wounded, but this is not mentioned in his citation.
   Gen. Taylor in his Nov. 19, 2001 video interview states that no other surviving plane in the 47th Squadron at Haleiwa besides his own P-40 was damaged that day.
   Elsewhere on this page are comments from Gen. Austin, 47th squadron leader and former Sergeant Raymond Turley, who was a mechanic and crew chief at the time of the attack.
   The citation description of the Welch P-40 taking fire seems to be a combination of what happened to Taylor's P-40 and a P-36 flown by Lt. Philip Rasmussen, who scored one kill in aerial combat that day. At least the writer of the citations and those in the Army high coimmand who read and approved them clearly did not have easily available facts in order.
   Again, as with Taylor's citation, the one for Welch seems to have been written in haste without the best information of what the two heroes did that day.
                                                                            -- JMM

George Welch as a test pilot after World War II.

George speaks on his second "Support the Troops" tour in May 1942.

   "I remember Ken (Taylor) being hit but I don't remember that George's plane was shot up.
           -- Maj. Gen. Gordon Austin USAF Ret., leader of the 47th pursuit squadron on Dec. 7, 1941, in a phone conversation on March 15, 2007.

   "We had been on alert with machine guns set up around Wheeler and we had rifles with ammunition, steel helmets and all that.
   "But about 4 p.m. Friday (Dec. 5, 1941) they said we could have the weekend off so they brought in the machines guns and we turned in our rifles and things. Just about everybody left for town but the three of us.
   "We were in the mess hall when we heard the noise and thought it was the Navy. We ran outside and could see the meatball on a Jap plane. There were arms and legs and body parts all over the place. Another man and I laid down against a curb, then we jumped in a ditch dug for a water line to the tents that were temporary housing.
   "I saw two planes come over and they would strafe the two rows of P-40s lined up on the field then the tail gunner would fire back at them and they went up in flames.
   "The next day (Dec. 8) l cleaned up Lt. Taylor's P-40 and found the pieces of the shell that hit his plane. They were tipped with aluminum from where they hit the trim tab in the cockpit and I sent them to Ken after keeping them for 60 years.
   "I can't recall that Welch's plane was hit at all."
          -- Former Sgt. Raymond Turley of Mt. Sterling, KY, a mechanic and crew chief with the 47th squadron, in a phone conversation on March 15, 2007.

                      A Sense of Humor Helped
   Through various conversations during my research on the Taylor/Welch project it seems well established these two hotshot young pilots were "troublemakers" after joining the 47th Squadron in Hawaii.
   One of the stories about George is that he wore a parachute under his dinner jacket one weekend night to a dance in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel ballroom.
    As some point during the evening George, as the tale goes, pulled the ripcord and the chute went bellowing out across the dance floor.
   For the remainder of the day after the Japanese flew back to their carrriers all of Hawaii was on edge expecting another attack and/or an invasion. Friendly fire unfortunately accounted for several deaths.
   After dark Ken and George were ordered to go up because someone thought Japanese planes were returning.
   Ken said there were no lights and once in the air he got a very bad case of vertigo.
   He was brought out of his trance by George's voice on his radio.
   "Where we going, Ken?" George asked. "To China?"
   They went back to Haleiwa and for the second time that day did not make the "brass" happy.
   "But what we did do was save our lives," Ken said.
   Someone in the 47th having a sense of humor in those days was a blessing, considering what these young men were facing. While it was obvious the Japanese were a threat, the squadron was expecting to be seeing combat in Europe, not the Pacific.
    Amazingly, one of the comments Ken made in the 2001 interview was that pilots were not highly regarded in the Army in 1940-41, and those who did earn their wings did so only after the flight instructors threw everything at them but the kitchen sink.
   The intensity of this training continued in Hawaii, where several pilots lost their lives before the Japanese struck.
                                                     -- JMM

Click on photo to enlarge.
George and an RAF hero ready for a "Support the War" parade.