Included among the collection of art pieces decorating Col. Eugene Taylor’s home is “Chikara, The Loyal Son,” a limited edition print of a painting by Hisashi Otsuka.
The sole subject of the painting — with a white background accenting his two-piece kamishimo over a kimono (a robe, typically worn by the samurai of the era, of purple, gold, red, black and white typically) and his long spear, peacefully resting on his shoulder — is Chikara, or more specifically, Oishi Chikara.
One of the 47 Ronin, Chikara joined his father Oishi in avenging the death of their master during the time of the Shogun in early 18th century Japan. Believing their master to have been wrongfully killed by a powerful government official, the Oishi family, along with 45 other samurai, plotted their revenge against the corrupt bureaucrat, knowing the penalty would be death.
Eventually, the ronin ambushed and killed the corrupt bureaucrat. After slaying him with the same dagger their master was killed with, the ronin voluntarily turned themselves in for their crime, and subsequently comitted seppuku, or ritualistic suicide.
This was their plan all along, according to a number of Japanese historians.
Chikara was among them, and his name is brought up often in this tale. His father, the leader of the 47 ronin, gave his son the opportunity to avoid the suicidal quest, to flee with his mother and sister (an opportunity he declined).
But when the time came for a suicide mission in the name of country and honor, his son followed in his father’s footsteps. Oishi Chikara was 15 years old. And he was 16 when he took his own life after being captured, the youngest of all those in the raid party, as a young man, who went to war, prepared to lay down his life in order to correct something he felt morally reprehensible.
And Taylor, who at the age of 18 learned to jump out of airplanes so he could be the first to step foot in Japan in response to Pearl Harbor, has a picture of Chikara prominently hung in his Valencia living room.
Eugene Taylor Jr. was born Oct. 24, 1924, in Los Angeles to Eugene and Jessie Ruth Taylor.
Growing up during the depression, Taylor had to find ways to entertain himself. At one one point, in junior high school, he found himself as president of the stamp club. He said he enjoyed seeing all the countries and such, but he also learned his knack for leadership and, believe it or not, typing.
Taylor said that his ability to type would take him far in the military once he joined, because coming across an enlisted man who knew how to type was an invaluable skill for the Army at the time.
In the Army Now
Taylor is very clear about what he did after graduating from Franklin HIgh School in Los Angeles in January 1943.
“I volunteered for military service in mid-February,” Taylor said. “(I) went in active service on March 2, 1943.”
After completing his basic training in Texas, Taylor was sent to the 651st Tank Destroyer at Ft. Hood, where he completed advanced training.
“At that time, I was one of three men selected to attend Army Specialized Training at Louisiana State University,” said Taylor, adding that it was due to his placement at the top of his class.
After the program was terminated, Taylor was sent to be a member of the 75th Infantry Division, which had been formed one year earlier, and would function as an anti-tank platoon.
“I was the new kid on the block,” said Taylor, “but there was no future for me in a unit that had been together for 12 months.”
Taylor said the only way “out” was paratrooper training, something that would take a special physical to complete. Four people from the 75th Infantry Division were sent in to take the physical, but the medical officer was not there for the examination. So to kill time, the soldiers decided to go get drinks and listen to music.
After an hour, Taylor went back as a courtesy, and the other guys stayed at the officers club, which left Taylor as the only one to receive a physical.
“The other three guys ran up and asked what was happening. And they said, ‘Taylor is going to Airborne,’” said Taylor. “And they said, ‘What about us?’ And the first sergeant said, ‘You didn’t get a physical’ … by that time, I was slinking away.”
Upon completion of the jump school course, making a total of five parachute jumps, he was put on assignment there in the headquarters until he was called to ship out.
In early August 1945, Taylor was sent to the 11th Airborne Division, and was on his way to being one of the first Americans to set foot on Japanese soil after the dropping of two atomic bombs.
During his brief stint in the Philippines, after being shipped out there with the 11th Airborne Division, Taylor vividly remembers the night the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
“We were in the Philippines in a small town … and while we were out in the jungle, everyone had started to make a lot of noise,” said Taylor. “We had dropped the bomb… we were certainly delighted because we were going to be the spearhead of going into Japan … it had been estimated that there would have been 90% casualties” had the U.S. Army done a traditional invasion.
Taylor was overseas for about three weeks when the second bomb was dropped. He was stationed 200 miles outside of Tokyo.
“We went out to secure a (kamikaze air base) because McArthur was going to be in, and a few days later, he would be on the battleship U.S.S. Missouri signing the Japanese surrender,” he said. “While we were out there, two of us would be armed and we checked with the police department, the fire department and the businesses and go out to the farm area.”
Taylor said that at the farms, because of war rations, they did not have sugar. As it so happened, American soldiers had sugar, and the Japanese had an eggplant that the soldiers liked. In exchange for frying up the eggplant for them, the American soldiers would give them the sugar.
It started a respectful relationship with the Japanese that Taylor has to this day.
“They were very cooperative, very pleasant,” said Taylor. “The Japanese, at no time, ever disagreed or caused any problems.”
After being given an honorable discharge from enlisted service on Feb. 12, 1946, Taylor was given an opportunity to return to school. The recently discharged staff sergeant, who would soon marry, completed his bachelor’s degree in history in 1949, and earned a master’s degree in administration from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1955.
He would go to become a teacher while continuing to serve as a commissioned officer in the United States Army reserve. He retired Oct. 24, 1984.
During those few decades, he served as everything from a platoon leader to deputy commander to being a member of the staff at the United States Military Academy in West Point.
He also traveled the world with his wife, Audrey, and even scaled pyramids in Teotihuacán, Mexico, and Cairo, Egypt.
His house now is decorated in the exploits of his travels, with prints from France, China and Japan decorating the walls. But there seems to be a special fondness for the Japanese work, something that makes it stick out to him so that he feels inclined to highlight its importance.
His children and his grandchildren have risen in the ranks of the military, just like Taylor. He says he has a military family. But he also mentions Chikara.
Maybe it’s because the two had so much in common. Maybe it’s because, if Chikara had lived past his young military service like Taylor did, they might have had similar lives: devoting their lives and families to military service.
“The United States government has treated me very well,” said Taylor. “They’ve always treated me well … (my country) has treated me well.”