Anniversary of Stokes Taylor's sacrifice is approaching

John Thompson • Dec 10, 2017 at 10:34 PM

ELIZABETHTON — This week marks the anniversary of the start of the largest and bloodiest battle in the history of the United States.

The country suffered 89,500 casualties and 19,000 deaths in the Battle of the Bulge.

One of those deaths was Stokes Taylor, a man who grew up at the foot of Buffalo Mountain, near the point where the boundaries of Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties intersect.

Stokes was a member of one of the most distinguished families in the area. His relatives included two governors of Tennessee, Bob and Alf Taylor, and Brigadier Gen. Nathaniel Taylor of the War of 1812.

Unlike those relatives, Stokes would not have several decades to build a successful career, but what he did at the moment of his death would bring more honor to his family He was posthumously awarded the highest medal awarded to any Carter Countian in World War II, the Distinguished Service Cross.

Stokes also became a hero to a cousin born after the war. Kenneth E. Huffman wrote “Bridges to the Past: an Adult reflects on Childhood,” about what he heard about Taylor while he was growing up.

Huffman remembered his Uncle John Taylor and Aunt Lillian Taylor lived on a farm on Rock House Road “at the base of Buffalo Mountain, about six miles from Johnson City.”

He said John and Lillian had a big family. Huffman said the oldest, Jack, did not see military service because of a physical problem. Two of the brothers, Bob and Clyde, were too young for service during World War II. Clyde would serve in the Korean War and later in Vietnam before his retirement. Bob would retire from the United States Air Force.”

Huffman said the family had twin boys, Ben and Bill. Ben served in the Army and was wounded in the Netherlands. Bill wanted to join the Navy, but was killed by a drunken driver before he could enlist.

Another brother did join the Navy. Jimmy served in the Pacific and became the first brother to die in the war when his ship, the U.S.S. Quincy, became the first ship ship sunk in the First Battle of Savo Island on Aug. 8-9, 1942.

The Navy had just landed Marines on Guadalcanal, and the naval battle was the first response of the Japanese Navy to the American offensive.

The Quincy, a heavy cruiser, was in the thick of the battle and was hit several times by shells and torpedoes before sinking bow first, taking Jimmy and 369 of his shipmates to the floor of the channel that would soon become known as “Ironbottom Sound” because so many ships would be sunk during the fight for Guadalcanal.

Two of her sister heavy cruisers, Vincennes and Astoria, would join her on the bottom that day.

Two brothers volunteered for airborne duty with the Army. Stokes served with the 82nd Airborne and David with the 101st Airborne.

Only a few mounts after the loss of Jimmy, the Taylor family would soon see another son in a combat zone on the other end of the world, in Guadalcanal.

In the fall of 1942, Stokes began his combat service in North Africa. The 82nd’s path would lead from North Africa to Sicily to Normandy and the Netherlands.

Stokes was a member of the 80th Airborne Anti-Aircraft Battalion. Its guns were an important asset when the Luftwaffe planes were a threat to the paratroopers, but a new and just as important use was found for the guns when the Luftwaffe was grounded.

Instead of pointing at the sky, the guns could be lowered to point straight at tanks.

That would be the role Stokes was in on Dec. 21, 1944. The Germans had broken through American lines five days earlier. Their mission was to rush to the Meuse River, establish a bridgehead and then head north to capture the port of Antwerp.

Stokes and his unit were in the way of the first objective, getting across the Meuse River. The spearhead armored force, led by Joachim Peiper, had already been turned back by U.S. Army engineers. They had destroyed the bridges across the Meuse before the Germans could reach them.

The Germans were now searching for alternate ways to get across when the action involving Stokes took place. Stokes’ anti-tank squad placed their gun on a hill that covered a road leading into Trois Ponts, Belgium.

While the position was strong from the front, the Germans attempted to get around it by sending soldiers around the wooded area to the north. They got through and opened heavy fire on the squad and platoon leader Jake Wirtich.

Stokes grabbed a Browning automatic rifle and began firing at the Germans, yelling at the members of his squad to get away while they could. Lt. Wirtich remained with the anti-tank gun and fired at the tanks on the road.

Stokes kept firing his weapon, covering the retreating men until they reached safety. The narrative for the Distinguished Service Cross he received said that “with complete disregard for his personal safety, and with full knowledge of the overwhelming odds against him, Corporal Taylor raked the hillside with intense and accurate fire which prevented the enemy from gaining the edge of the woods to fire on his anti-tank squad as they effected their withdrawal. After his ammunition was exhausted, Corporal Taylor was seen to be hit by enemy rifle fire.”

Lt. Wirtich also died at his anti-tank gun and would receive a Distinguished Service Cross.The men who withdrew were able to get away.

For the second time in the war, John and Lillian Taylor had lost a son, and for the second time there was not even a body to bury. That would change in 1949.

Huffman said in his book that a man searching for war relics at the site of the battle came across a set of American dog tags. Further investigation uncovered skeletal remains. Through dental records, Stokes was identified. He was finally buried at the cemetery at Mountain Home.

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