Montie Taylor never met his uncle, Bion Leigh Taylor. But he has heard enough stories from family members to know quite a bit about the type of person he was.
“Everyone thought he was really dynamic,” said Montie.
“He was good-looking and highly educated. Had he survived the war, he would have been a very successful guy. But his life was cut short.”
One of the 44 soldiers being honored by the upcoming Memorial Stadium Rededication, Bion gave his life for his country on May 4, 1943.
Before his military career, Bion had grown up south of El Reno with his parents, Bion Frank Taylor and Garland Elizabeth Leigh Taylor. They also had a younger son named Kenneth.
The family was poor, but that didn't stop Bion from striving for success.
“It was really tough back in the Depression Era,” said Montie. “The family was very, very poor, but Bion always wanted something better.”
After working several jobs in the oil industry, Bion finally got that something when he decided to go to the University of Oklahoma through an ROTC program. According to Montie, even though Bion couldn’t afford college without the ROTC, he was intelligent enough to do very well academically. At El Reno High School, he had been a top student with interests in music and athletics.
The Army ensured Bion the education he desired. He was 22 years old upon entering the military, later transferring to the U.S. Army Air Corps. Throughout his time in the service, he demonstrated sacrifice, hard work and honorable character, and it continued to show when he was on leave. Montie recalls an example that always brought warm emotions to his family.
“My uncle had a cousin who lived in Tulsa with her parents,” he said. “She was mentally handicapped, still in public high school at the time. Bion agreed to take her to the prom when he was on leave. People were impressed, and they were curious about the good-looking guy who took this young lady to the prom.”
While in the service, Bion kept a diary of his experiences, and the Taylor family still has it. Within the pages is a memorable quote about a sad day in American history.
“Looks like we’re going to war now.”
The line was written on Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
The Taylor family experienced a sad day of their own a few years later. On the day that Bion’s brother, Kenneth, was graduating high school, he and his family received word that Bion was missing and presumed killed in action. Kenneth, Montie’s father, once told his son how he felt when he got the news 76 years ago.
“He said it was the saddest day of his life,” said Montie.
On a ferrying mission to Morocco, Bion's P-38 fighter malfunctioned. Flying over the ocean, the plane fell into the water. Bion’s body was never recovered.
The family moved to Kansas after Bion’s death. A marker was erected in his memory nearby at the Fort Scott National Cemetery.
Bion’s mother, Garland, passed away in 1973. She was an active officer of the Gold Star Mothers, and was one of the first graduates of El Reno High School.
Bion’s father, B.F., was a farmer. He died in 1981.
The last relative who knew Bion died in 2014. He was Kenneth, Bion’s brother and Montie’s father. Three of Kenneth’s children, including Montie, live in Kansas. Another lives in Tulsa. They all still visit El Reno on occasion.
One El Reno resident, Angela Heinrich, also has a connection to the Taylor family. Her father, James Moore, was the brother of Melba Jean Moore Taylor, the wife of Kenneth Taylor. Angela and her husband, Henry, own the El Reno Sod Company.
Bion’s niece and three nephews are his only surviving blood relatives. They are Mary Clark, Montie Taylor, Mike Taylor and Mark Taylor. Though they never met Bion, they do all they can to keep his memory alive.
Montie brings flowers to Bion’s headstone every Memorial Day, a tradition previously held by his father. The family also does one thing in particular to remember him — they continue telling the stories.
These stories of honor and courage are spreading beyond the family. Through community-wide attention, Bion and soldiers like him are now receiving some much-needed recognition. Montie said that he’s grateful for the work done by Brian Rukes and others to honor the memory of the 44, including Bion.
“Their stories are slowly fading into the past. It’s good that people are keeping alive the memory and the legacy of these soldiers who gave their lives for their country. It’s a story we need to be able to remember.”
Montie and his family will be at El Reno Memorial Stadium for the rededication ceremony on Oct. 4. The names of 44 El Reno soldiers will be honored with a new engraving, a B-52 flyover and a celebration of life and liberty.