General Maxwell Taylor (1901-1987) served the United States for half a century as a soldier-states man-scholar in peacetime and in three wars.
Maxwell Davenport Taylor was born August 26, 1901, in Keytesville, Missouri. He attended school in Kansas City until accepting an appointment to West Point. Graduating fourth in his class in 1922, Taylor joined the Corps of Engineers (later transferring to the Field Artillery). During the 1920s and 1930s Taylor served in several posts in the United States and in France, Japan, and China.
An accomplished linguist, he returned to West Point as a language instructor, 1927 to 1932. But he was foremost a student of military science, graduating from the Army's Command and Staff School in 1935 and the Army War College in 1940. In between schools he held various command and staff assignments.
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Taylor wore the silver leaf of a lieutenant colonel. From then on, however, increasing responsibilities brought rapid promotions. In 1942 he was sent to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, to assist General Matthew Ridgway informing the Army's first airborne division, the 82d. Taylor commanded the division's artillery in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and in the landing at Salerno, Italy, two months later. From there he slipped behind German lines to Rome, where he established contact with Italian authorities while assessing the strength of German troops in and around the city. Later General Dwight Eisenhower was to call Taylor's secret mission a risk "greater than I asked any other agent or emissary to undertake during the war."
In March 1944 Taylor, now a brigadier general, was ordered to England to command the 101st Airborne Division. He parachuted into Normandy with his men in the early morning darkness of D-Day, June 6, 1944. Later that year he led his division in another airborne assault— Operation Market-Garden—in which American and British forces sought but failed to open the Rhine River as far north as Arnheim, Holland. Taylor was back in the United States when the German army launched its massive attack against the "Bulge" in the Allied lines in the Ardennes. The 101st was surrounded at Bastogne, Belgium, where second-in-command General Anthony McAuliffe made his celebrated reply of "Nuts!" to the German order to surrender.
Taylor hurried back to his command and led the division until the end of the war in Europe, May 8, 1945. Later that year he was appointed superintendent of West Point, moving to chief of staff of U.S. forces in Europe in 1949 and to deputy chief of staff of the Army in 1951.
During the Korean War he took command of the U.S. Eighth Army in February 1953 for five months of fighting until the armistice was signed in July. The next year he took command of all U.S. forces in the Far East and in 1955 was promoted to four-star general and assigned to lead all United Nations forces in the Far East. However, two months later he was recalled to the United States to become army chief of staff, serving in that post until his retirement in 1959.
Taylor reentered government service in 1961 to investigate the CIA role in the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. He then served as military representative of President John F. Kennedy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam in 1964, and from 1965 to 1969 as special consultant to President Lyndon Johnson. He retired again in 1969, spending much of his private life in writing on national and international affairs.
Slender and athletic, General Taylor looked every bit the picture of a soldier. His military decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart, as well as numerous foreign honors. In 1925 Taylor married Lydia Gardner Happer. They had two sons, John Maxwell and Thomas Happer.
Further Reading on Maxwell Taylor
For more information on General Taylor's role in World War II see almost any good history of the conflict, particularly Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (reprinted 1977) and Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 (paperback 1960) and A Bridge Too Far (paperback 1974). Additional information on Taylor can be found in his writings, which are direct and clear-headed. The Uncertain Trumpet (1959) was an attack on the Eisenhower administration's emphasis on "massive retaliation" as the chief defense of the United States. Responsibility and Response (1967) further argued the need for conventional as well as nuclear weapons. Swords and Plowshares (1972) was also a contribution to U.S. defense policies.
Additional Biography Sources
Taylor, John M., General Maxwell Taylor: the sword and the pen, New York: Doubleday, 1989.
Taylor, Maxwell D. (Maxwell Davenport), 1901-1987, Swords and plowshares, New York, N.Y.: Da Capo Press, 1990.