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Relatives sought of WV pilot who died to save crew

Photo provided to The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register  Eric Kennedy, a professor at Bucknell University, and his wife Carol visit the grave of Brooke County native Robert Taylor in the Netherlands in 2010.
Photo provided to The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
Eric Kennedy, a professor at Bucknell University, and his wife Carol visit the grave of Brooke County native Robert Taylor in the Netherlands in 2010.

WHEELING, W.Va. — More than five years ago, Eric Kennedy flew almost halfway around the world to visit the grave of a World War II veteran he’d never met, but to whom he owes his very existence.

Now Kennedy, a biomedical engineering professor at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, plans to use some of his sabbatical this year to uncover as much as he can about the life of 1st Lt. Robert Taylor – a Brooke County man who died when the plane he was piloting was shot down over Germany on Jan. 25, 1945.

He kept the plane stable long enough for his crew members to escape. Kennedy’s grandfather, Sgt. Edward Kennedy, was the last man off that plane before it crashed in a ball of flames with Taylor still aboard.

Although his grandfather never spoke of those events for years, Eric Kennedy learned of them through a brief account Edward Kennedy wrote during the 1980s. The significance of Taylor’s sacrifice has never left him, and has only grown with the birth of his children – Ellie, 4, and Calvin, 1.

“I would have never been on this earth had it not been for what Bobby Taylor did for my grandfather 70 years ago in 30 seconds of extreme duress. … My children wouldn’t be here if not for him, so there’s another generation that we’ll be sharing this story with,” Kennedy said.

Edward Kennedy died in January at the age of 93 – another loss among the dwindling fraternity of what’s become known as the “Greatest Generation.” Eric Kennedy said his grandfather – who always wanted to be a pilot but couldn’t pass the tests due to color-blindness – never forgot the man whose life was cut short so his might go on.

“Every day, he would get up and thank Bobby Taylor for giving him the chance to live his life,” Kennedy said.

In 2010, Eric Kennedy and his then-girlfriend, now wife, Carol flew to the Netherlands to visit Taylor’s grave, one among thousands marked by a vast field of white crosses. Feeling compelled to leave a memento behind, he pushed a pair of quarters into the soft ground near the marker – a West Virginia state quarter, for Taylor’s home state, and a Maryland quarter for his grandfather, a Baltimore native.

But beyond the location of his grave, Eric Kennedy knows little about the man who saved his grandfather’s life. He’s hoping his sabbatical from Bucknell will give him the time he needs to change that – and perhaps even make contact with a relative of Taylor’s – but he said his previous attempts to unearth information have led to dead ends.

“We’d love to make a connection just to see the other side of the story. … They might not even know the sacrifice he made and what that meant for all the men on his plane,” Kennedy said of any descendants of Taylor who might exist. “It might offer a chance for closure on both ends.”

Taylor was a member of the 558th Bomber Squadron, 387th Bomber Group and received the Distinguished Service Cross, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart during his service time.

Kennedy welcomes anyone with information about Taylor to contact him via email at [email protected]

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