Monday, May 7, 2012

Remembering Walt

By Reece Hirsch

I’m going to go off-topic this week to say a few words about my father-in-law, Walton S. Taylor, who died on April 29 at age 91 and is being buried this week in New Iberia, Louisiana.  Known as “Dubs” or “W.S.” to his friends, he was a wonderful, big-hearted man, a Texas eccentric, and a tough guy who never felt the need to act tough.  I wouldn’t presume to sum up a life like his in a blog post, but I would like to note a few aspects of his remarkable story.

After a difficult childhood, Walt left home and struck out on his own to make a life for himself with virtually nothing at age 18, joining the Navy prior to World War II.   Two days before shipping out to serve in the Pacific, Walt married the love of his life and wife of nearly 67 years, Betty Betar Taylor, in Monterey, California.  They had met as students at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana.  He was 23, she was 19, and they had no idea if they would ever see each other again after the wedding.  For those of us who are not members of the Greatest Generation, this sort of high drama sounds like something out of a Greer Garson movie, but Walt and Betty didn’t make a big deal about it.  They knew their story was like so many others of that time.

During the war, Walt served in naval intelligence and civil-military relations.  Like my father, who fought at Guadalcanal, he never spoke much about the actual fighting, but I loved the story of how he came home from the Pacific.  He was on Okinawa and his unit was short on provisions.  The sailors that were on board the ships anchored off Okinawa were much better provisioned.  Walt figured out a way to correct that imbalance, hiring locals to produce some authentic-looking Japanese rising-sun battle flags (complete with handwritten inscriptions in Japanese) that commanded a high price in barter with the crews of the ships.   When the war was finally over and Walt was anxiously waiting for a plane home to see his wife again, he was able to use a case of whiskey acquired with one of those flags to secure a seat on a cargo plane heading back to the States, returning home in the company of generals.

After the war, Walt and Betty lived in New Orleans from 1946 to 1953, where he worked for the U.S. Postal Service.  He had an administrative post in the office of the local postmaster and distinguished himself by committing to memory every postal route in New Orleans.  His dedication was rewarded when he was appointed a U.S. postal inspector based in Tallahassee, Florida.

Walt served for over twenty years as a postal inspector covering the jurisdictions of Florida and south Georgia.  For those of you are not familiar with the job, postal inspectors are not mailmen -- they are the most unheralded badasses in U.S. law enforcement.  In those days, there were only a handful of postal inspectors and they handled federal criminal cases that included any and every crime involving the U.S. mail, from murders to kidnappings to extortion.  He carried a gun, collaborated with the FBI, and once worked undercover on an organized crime case.   My wife Kathy remembers that he never let her see the crime scene photos that he would sometimes review at home in private.

After retiring from the Postal Service, Walt worked for a few years as a Leon County Deputy Sheriff.  He supervised Ted Bundy’s custody when he was held at the Leon County Jail in Tallahassee, and spoke to him on several occasions, attempting to talk to him about the Bible.  The fact that Walt attempted to save even Ted Bundy’s soul tells you all that you need to know about the depth of his faith as a Christian.

Walt died suddenly of a heart attack, about five months after his beloved wife Betty.  He loved bad jokes, sang “Little Joe the Wrangler” to his toddlers, and intimidated the hell out of me when I first started dating his daughter.  He will be missed.


Michael Wiley said...

A fine and memorable remembrance, Reece. He sounds like he was a very good and very interesting man.

Reece said...

Thanks, Michael. If you want to know what Walt was like, imagine if Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call from "Lonesome Dove" had a partner.

lil Gluckstern said...

A very nice praise for who seems to have a truly wonderful, committed, principled man. My thoughts are with your wife, and you in light of your difficult losses.

Reece said...

I appreciate that, Lil.

Meredith Cole said...

Thinking of you and your family right now, Reece. Thanks for sharing your memories of Walt with us. How many people can say their father-in-law guarded Ted Bundy!

Reece said...

Thank you, Meredith. Walt led an interesting life, that's for sure.

Graham Brown said...

Moving tribute, Reece.

Reece said...

Thanks, Graham.