He recently completed a project compiling the war correspondence of two of his uncles, Charles Ambrose Taylor Jr., who died in service, and McWhirter Taylor.
“We need to remember,” said Collins.
He hopes the printed materials, including transcribed letters sent by the servicemen to their sisters — Collins’ mother and aunts — will provide a record “so our families and the next generations that don’t know anything about this time have something to go back to.”
Also included are letters from Taylor’s fellow servicemen who survived the plane crash that led to Charles Taylor Jr.’s death.
Collins, who served in the Air Force from 1963 to 1967, was also motivated by a feeling that patriotism has been on the decline. After reading the letters his mother had saved and looking deeper into the young man’s life, the more determined he became to make a permanent record of the short life of Taylor, who was a mechanic in the Army Air Corp.
Both of the uncles served in Europe during World War II.
“The two brothers were over there at the same time but did not make contact with one another except through the mail,” said Collins. “The second brother was over there and did not know how long the younger one had been gone or whether they had found him.”
Born in Aberdeen, Charles Taylor Jr. was the 11th of 11 children and the son of Charles A. Taylor Sr., who served in the Mississippi House of Representatives. His correspondence covers a period from 1943 to 1945.
“I get to feeling pretty low at times but I’ll make it,” he wrote to his sister in September 1943. “I did fail on the cadet exam my eyes are darn near out. This sand and sea shells with the sun have put them out. There’s nothing left for me but to be a mechanic. I’ll help put them in the air.”
In an August 1943 letter, he mentions that he had just heard “Pop” was elected and talks about his prospects in the service.
“I have a chance of flying on a B17 or B24 one if I can pass the tests and I think I can if I don’t I will still be a aircraft mechanic and when I finish B.T. I will go to mechanics school for four months and then into the woods to put some planes together and then I have a good chance of going across,” he wrote.
In a November 1944 note, the 19-year-old lamented the constant snow, rain and cold. “I put on wool lined leather pants and coat and still freeze.”
A Western Union telegram from the War Department dated July 11, 1945, informed the family that Taylor was reported missing on July 5, 1945. The next month, his father received a list of addresses of some survivors from the plane on which Taylor was the acting crew chief. Taylor Sr. wrote to the survivors and received some detailed accounts of his son’s fate.
“To ans. your letter to the best of my knowledge your son was not hurt but died from shock & exposure,” wrote fellow crewman Robert C. Leubbers. “When the 8 of us, your son was one of them, got into the water I was the only one that was hurt. But the water is so cold and it don’t look like you are going to get picked up at all. Your son was the second to die. The four of us that are alive are all big heavy fellows … after he died we were so weak that we could not hold his body up. We all thought we were going to die in a matter of minutes but we still never would give up. Mr. Taylor we held your son up as long as we could but after he was dead there was nothing else I could do for him.”
The B-17 had left the Azores and developed engine trouble about 200 miles out. Attempts to feather the failing engine failed, and a fire broke out. The plane hit the water and eight out of 19 onboard got out at 1:30 a.m.
Taylor died seven-and-a-half hours later. Three others among the eight also died.
“You see,” another crewman wrote, “our plane went down so quickly that there was no time to get out the emergency rafts, and all we had was life vests.”
McWhirter Taylor later enjoyed success cooking steak dinners. He turned the old family homeplace into “Hoss Taylor’s Ponderosa.”
The two brothers were interred in Monroe County.
“I’ll never know how this will be received down through the generations to follow,” Collins wrote in his prologue, “but I will sure have had the satisfaction of proclaiming my utmost gratitude to my uncles and to all who have served our country so faithfully over the years.”