The bond of true friendship never dies. Forty-nine years after being killed in action in Vietnam, Major William Edward Taylor’s friend, Chuck Ruffner, never gave up during his journey to achieve recognition for Taylor’s courage.
The Life of a Hero
William Edward Taylor’s story began in New Jersey where he was born on June 6, 1936. After his parents divorced, Taylor moved with his mother to Miami in the early 1940s. As a young man, Taylor studied drafting at Technical Senior High School and graduated in 1953.
That same year, he enrolled at the University of Florida’s School of Architecture.
As a dedicated student, Taylor had to work to make ends meet. He worked as both a waiter in a sorority house and in the UF linen room dispensing towels.
During his time at UF, he also became involved in the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity and made long lasting friends and brothers.
According to one of his friends and fraternity brothers, Art Sheldon, Taylor embodied everything about the fraternity. “Loved by all, he very much exemplified the fraternity’s slogan: ‘Not Four Years, but a Lifetime,’ ” Sheldon said.
Taylor joined and participated in the Army ROTC at UF. As an active ROTC student, Taylor displayed leadership and great character and was selected as a Distinguished Military Student in 1957 and was granted immediate appointment as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army in 1958.
Taylor’s training spanned five years.
Starting training at Fort Benning and continuing at Fort Bragg, he successfully passed the Airborne, Jumpmaster and Ranger Course. He then successfully became a Master Safety Officer and Senior Parachutist and was appointed as 1st lieutenant.
In 1962, Taylor received a letter of appreciation for teaching a class on anti-tank warfare and infantry platoon on the attack and in 1963, he received a diploma for completing the Infantry Officer Career Course.
In 1961, Taylor became engaged to Cathy Guinee, whom he met through his cousin Pat Heitzman. A couple years later, Taylor and Cathy married in Miami.
Taylor and Cathy moved to Washington, D.C. when he was appointed the aide of the general officer. They then moved to Greece with the general.
Taylor started to feel like his extensive years of training were being wasted. He resigned from his position and volunteered for combat in Vietnam.
After moving Cathy back to Miami, he shipped out in 1966.
On Aug. 14, 1966, after months of combat in Vietnam, Taylor and his men were involved in the Paul Revere II offensive. Taylor and his men moved against an entrenched enemy. Almost instantaneously, a firefight erupted between Taylor’s men and the enemy as they kept moving forward.
Taylor’s men were almost surrounded by enemy forces and the troops were taking many casualties. Another captain called for an air strike as another U.S. battalion was closing in to assist Taylor’s men. As the bombardment continued, Taylor said, “Keep it coming closer. I can’t feel the concussions yet.”
As the bombs kept falling, Taylor was ordered to pull his men back. He obeyed and started the operation of pulling out the dead and wounded.
The following morning Taylor began to organize an attack, but the enemy launched one first. The ever-ready Taylor’s leadership was on display. He was scrambling everywhere telling soldiers where to direct machine gun fire while constantly pulling back to his radio point in order to call in artillery. His men eventually were able to regain the prior position where they had somewhat of an advantage.
As Taylor continued to constantly expose himself to enemy fire to direct his men, a mortar round blasted and mortally wounded him and his radio operator. His last words were said to be, “Hold the perimeter and dig in. They can’t push you out then. Just tell the men to hang on.”
His leadership and dedication to the U.S. Army is evident down to his last moment as he did everything he could to direct his men with the enemy bearing down on him.
Taylor’s men continued on for him, winning the battle two hours later.
Cathy received many letters about her husband including an emotional, handwritten letter from Lieutenant Colonel Lombard praising Taylor’s leadership and dedication to his men.
Bill was promoted to major and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.
The Dedication of a Friend
Chuck Ruffner was a good friend of Taylor and Sheldon at UF’s Pi Lambda Phi. Ruffner was devastated when he learned of Taylor’s death in Vietnam and that feeling stayed with him.
Thirty years ago, Ruffner decided to visit the UF ROTC building and noticed that Taylor’s name was not displayed anywhere. This began Ruffner’s difficult endeavor.
He decided to contact his cousin, Robert Solomon, who was the deputy inspector general of the Army. Solomon was able to send Ruffner a photo of Bill in his uniform and his citation.
Ruffner organized a small ceremony for Taylor at the fraternity house in 1989 and tried to get Taylor’s family to attend. A priest at the ceremony spoke to the small audience of a few of Taylor’s friends and current Pi Lambda Phi brothers.
A plaque was made honoring Taylor at the fraternity and was later retrieved by Ruffner in a store room, covered in dust.
Ruffner then realized that Taylor’s courage had to be noticed. “I was more determined than ever to see that his valor was properly recognized by UF,” Ruffner said.
Every year Ruffner visited, he would check the walls for Taylor’s recognition and met with the commanding officers at the ROTC building on campus. One time the colonel in charge couldn’t find Taylor’s record of ever attending UF.
Ruffner was constantly referred to the Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in Gainesville and received no response.
In 2005, he visited the ROTC building once more. This time the colonel in charge concluded Taylor had never attended ROTC at UF, which Ruffner and Sheldon knew was false.
Ruffner tried to get the most recent former university president involved and received no response.
According to one of Ruffner’s sources, he learned Taylor was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but the recommending officer was killed in action before completing the recommendation.
“This medal which recognizes an even greater level of valor was to be denied him by a mean twist of fate,” Sheldon said.
Finally in 2015, Ruffner struck gold.
He attempted to contact current UF president W. Kent Fuchs and was able to reach the Vice President of Student Affairs Dave Kratzer, who was a retired Army Major General.
Kratzer joined Ruffner is his efforts and discovered the ROTC computer only reached the year 1960 and didn’t have Taylor’s record, which was in 1958.
With the help of Kratzer and Sheldon, Ruffner was able to get what he set out to achieve.
Sheldon is more than proud to be Ruffner’s friend.
“It’s good to have Chuck Ruffner as a friend. He is the very definition of loyalty and determination. I have seen those qualities in him countless times, but never more intensely than in the matter of Major William Edward Taylor,” Sheldon said.
Ruffner’s many years of effort came to fruition in the form of a ceremony. Bill is scheduled to be honored at UF’s ROTC building, Van Fleet Hall, with the dedication of a plaque on Saturday. Bill’s family members from all around the United States are to attend. His widow, however, is unable to attend. Current and past Pi Lambda Phi brothers are scheduled to also be in attendance.
The plaque highlights his role as both a courageous United States soldier who died in battle and as fraternity brother who was never forgotten for his kindness and great singing voice.
The ceremony will include an honor guard, speeches by an army chaplain, retired Major General David Kratzer, fraternity brothers Ruffner and Sheldon and the dedication of the plaque.
Ruffner’s hard work has paid off. Bill’s memory will continue to live on at Van Fleet Hall on the UF campus and through the hearts of his friends and family.