Semper Fi, Mr. Taylor

Father David Epps's picture

I was eating lunch alone a few days ago in Newnan, Ga., at the Red Lobster. It was one of those rare times when I had some down time, no appointments, was in non-clerical clothing, and the cell phone remained quiet.

As I enjoyed the unsweetened ice tea and oysters (one dozen on the half shell), a gentlemen came up to me from another table and asked, “Are you Father Epps?” I replied that I was and he remarked that he had read and enjoyed the newspaper articles for some time.

His name was Clyde Taylor and he was sharing the lunch hour with his wife. In addition to a liking for seafood, I discovered that we had something else in common, too.

Mr. Taylor, now 91 years old, was also a former United States Marine. He had served with the 3rd Marine Division during World War II. Mr. Taylor would have been a very young man when he stepped off the landing craft and entered into the Battle of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.

As historian Lorraine Ramsdell, USNR, wrote, “The first attack on Bougainville occurred Aug. 15, 1943. Eight Corsairs from Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (later known as the Black Sheep) flew up from the Russell Islands to strafe the Kahili airfield during American amphibious landings on the island of Vella Lavella. The lightning strike — a surprise so complete the Japanese did not have time to shoot back — damaged aircraft and refueling equipment on the ground and forestalled a night attack on the American amphibious force.

“The actual landing by the 3rd Marine Division at Empress Augusta Bay took place at dawn Nov. 1. The bay, located at some distance from the heavily defended airfields at either end of the island, had what appeared to be the most suitable beaches for a landing. The plan was to establish a beachhead, then bring in supplies and equipment to build a landing strip for fighters. Invasion forces consisted of 14,321 troops.”

“The landing met with several obstacles. The Japanese defense of the beaches was stronger than anticipated. The 40,000 troops on the island had been reported stationed mainly around the airfields, and aerial reconnaissance photos did not reveal the extensive system of bunkers in the jungles above the beaches.

“In the fight for Bougainville, the Japanese expended more of their air units than they could afford to lose. The Bougainville airstrips constructed at Torokina and Piva by Seabees and engineers made possible fighter-escorted bomber attacks against Rabaul, and other Japanese bases on New Ireland and New Britain. The capture of Bougainville caused Marine casualties of 423 dead and 1,418 wounded.”

Mr. Taylor, of course, mentioned none of that. He said he just wanted to shake my hand and thank me for writing the weekly articles. It was a gesture of respect and appreciation “from one old Marine to a young Marine,” he said.

It had been a long, long time since I’d been called a young Marine. “Semper Fi,” he said as he walked back to his table to rejoin his wife after our conversation. “Semper Fi,” is short for “Semper Fidelis,” or, “always faithful,” the Marine Corps motto.

When I was in boot camp, I heard about places like Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, and, yes, Bougainville. The men who fought and bled on these beaches were the stuff of Marine Corps legend. A genuine hero, a man who made it possible for me to proudly claim the title of “Marine,” had shaken my hand and had been at my table. I was, in all truth, awed and humbled.

Before I left, I stopped at his table and met his wife, a precious and lovely lady. As I began to leave, he shook my hand again, smiled, and said, “Always remember, ‘Semper Fi.’”

“Semper Fi,” I replied.

On the way out, I called the server over and paid for their lunch. “Who shall I say paid the bill?” she asked.

“Just tell him that it’s a gesture of respect and admiration from a young Marine.”

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