99-year-old Marilyn Taylor is a veteran through and through. She is Mom to us and Grandma to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Neighbors, church members, and friends call her “Grandma Taylor.”
Born Into Military Life
On November 28, 1922, Marilyn Marguerite (Metzger) Taylor was born at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, where her father, Colonel Edward Metzger, was stationed. She was literally born into the Army.
As Army life goes, the Metzgers moved frequently. Mom’s growing up memories include stays at Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Des Moines, Iowa; Camp Jackson, South Carolina; and Fort Benning, Georgia, among many others.
One or more transfers during a school year were common. She remembers having nightmares about trying to find her way in a new school building.
Fort Knox and General Patton
“I watched as the train arrived in Fort Knox with the gold,” she remembers. “That was where the first tanks were introduced. And paratroopers practiced jumping off a high tower.” Her father, Col. Metzger, was in the mounted army. “I remember the horses,” she reflects.
Col. Metzger was stationed at Fort Knox while General George Patton was there. They had ridden together in pursuit of Pancho Villa under General John “Black Jack” Pershing along the American-Mexican border.
Mom recalls Patton liked things that were rustic and, even though brand new officers’ quarters were available, he chose to live in an old log cabin at Fort Knox.
My grandfather (“Grandad” to us) cultivated beautiful roses and once threw a garden party for Patton. My mother’s job was to walk around and serve fancy peanuts to the guests. Another time she was away at a girls’ camp and Grandad had her driven home because Patton was a dinner guest. He didn’t want her to miss the opportunity to be with the great man. Mom was annoyed, wanting to stay at camp. She remembers conversing with Patton as she served drinks. Her memory of General Patton is “a rather paunchy man with an old face, a high squeaky voice, and a ‘don’t mess with me’ persona.”
When the United States military entered World War II, Marilyn’s father was sent to Europe. She wished to help the war effort and volunteered for duty. She joined the WAVES, the women’s branch of the US Navy. When asked where she would like to serve, she requested hospital work. Instead she was given the job of aerial gunnery instructor, training turret gunners.
She recalls that these young men paid close attention because they knew the danger they would face. They would be fighting, not only for their country, but for their lives. The instructors used simulators to teach lead and lag, shooting from a moving position at a moving target.
The men she trained were deployed into war. Marilyn did her part on the home front while the boys fought battles in the sky. Who knows the impact of her effort? She remains rightfully proud today of her service to her country. The hearts of her family swell when she stands at patriotic concerts to the melody of Anchors Aweigh. Our mom, Grandma Taylor, is a veteran of World War II.
Married a Sailor
Bobby Taylor enlisted in the U.S Navy at eighteen years old and served in the Pacific during World War II. He was assigned to aircraft carriers, first the USS Wasp, then the USS Hornet.
In the battle of Santa Cruz, the Hornet was attacked by Japanese torpedo bombers and crash-dived by kamikaze pilots, ultimately causing her to sink. His hometown newspaper records, “The Smyrna boy saw shells fly and his buddies die.”
The surviving seamen were rescued by a Navy destroyer ship that came alongside the foundering Hornet, swung a cargo net within reach of the sailors and brought them to safety.
Bob was returned to the US where he served for three years at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. His duties included supervising a certain WAVE named Marilyn. One day he invited her to lunch. Three months after meeting, they were married at Christ Episcopal Church in Pensacola. She wore a white WAVE uniform and carried the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, wrapped in white satin and topped by an orchid. Bob and Marilyn Taylor celebrated fifty-four wedding anniversaries before he passed away in 1999.
After the war Bob and Marilyn lived in his hometown of Smyrna, Georgia. He attended the Georgia Institute of Technology with the GI Bill, earning a degree in Structural Engineering that led to his lifelong profession in the steel building industry. He was always proud to be a “Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech” but talked only reluctantly about the harrowing experiences of war.
In the European theater of World War II, the relationship of Marilyn’s father with General Patton continued as he served under Patton in France and Germany. Marilyn shares one remarkable incident her father recounted to her.
Historical accounts of Patton describe his anti-Soviet views as a threat to relations among the Allies, especially as they neared victory in Europe. Around that time Grandad called Patton with a question. He was surprised when the general himself answered the phone. As their discussion ended, Patton said, “Be **** quick about it. They already got me, and you’re next on the list.”
Shortly after their conversation, in December, 1945, Patton died from injuries sustained in a car accident near Mannheim, Germany. Speculation abounds regarding the true cause of death. Many theorize it was an assassination intended to remove the volatile threat to Allied unity and the Soviet regime.
Colonel Metzger, Jr.
Marilyn’s only sibling, Edward, Jr. (“Bud”), followed his father’s path in the US Army. He enlisted at eighteen years old and served in a tank division that participated in the World War II invasion of France at the same time as his father. He remained active through the Korean War and Viet Nam War, ultimately being promoted to Colonel.
Both the Colonel Metzgers, father and son, were interred with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Back to Fort Des Moines
During the late 1930’s Marilyn’s family was stationed at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. In 2016, she moved to the Des Moines area with my (Dean’s) family. She has lived with us for the past ten years. A career change brought us to Iowa. Soon after arriving, we took Mom to visit the location of Fort Des Moines. There are a few original buildings remaining and a museum.
The visit prompted many memories, including the horses, the parade ground, and the stately brick officers’ quarters along tree-lined streets. She recalls riding to Lincoln High School in the back of an Army troop carrier that served as their school bus. “I’ll bet those rugged soldiers didn’t sign up to take care of school children,” she says.
One particular building is prominent in her memory. Our helpful guide unlocked the chapel – the original structure from when Mom lived there.
Inside, I asked her if she could remember where she sat. Without hesitation she walked to a pew.
Mom’s life included some severe trials. Her mother died of tuberculosis when Mom was very young. She endured subsequent years with a “cruel” stepmother and the countless moves her family made. Mom remembers gratefully the influences during her formative years that pointed her to God and the comfort and strength He gave her. We are all amazed when she names Sunday School teachers from her childhood. She loves the Bible, her church, and her Lord to this day.
Just a few blocks from where we live in Johnston is Camp Dodge, the headquarters of the Iowa National Guard. We regularly hear the rattle of artillery from the firing range and the 7 am and 5 pm bugle calls.
Marilyn loves these sounds. “We used to ride our bikes on the range, when they weren’t shooting, of course! When Taps sounded, we stopped playing and stood at attention. Then it was time to dress for dinner.” Living near Camp Dodge is like coming home.
At her request, one day the mournful notes of Taps will play, an honor guard will fold the flag, and it will be presented to her loving, grateful family with a slow salute.
Day is done,
gone the sun,
From the hills,
from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep,
May the soldier
On the land
or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Thanks and praise,
For our days,
‘Neath the sun,
Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go,
This we know,
God is nigh.
Thank you for your service, Marilyn, Mom, Grandma. We are proud of you and thank God for you.
Compiled by Petra Hinton (granddaughter), Marguerite Kessler (daughter), and Dean Taylor (son).
Taps lyrics from http://www.usmemorialday.org/taps.