David E. Taylor credits his inspiration to fly military aircraft to his 95-year-old father, Chester, who once flew B-29 aircraft during World War II.
Taylor’s own military career included flying combat missions as a Marine pilot in Vietnam and transporting the most powerful person in the Free World — the president of the United States. On Friday, Taylor, 68, of Tequesta, was honored for his nearly two years of service as a Marine One pilot during the term of President Richard Nixon.
With family and U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney and Patrick Murphy in attendance, Taylor was presented the Presidential Service Badge during a ceremony at the Marine Service Center of West Palm Beach. Rooney, who previously represented Taylor’s district, presented Taylor with the award.
“There’s nothing more rewarding that we do than being amongst the men and women who wear our our uniforms and finally be able to recognize those who given their service to this country,” Rooney said during the ceremony.
From September 1969 to September 1971, Taylor was among a select group of Marine pilots responsible for transporting the president, vice president and other heads of state.
“It was a very, very special, a very elite unit of the Marine Corps,” Taylor recalled. “There’s an exhilarating feeling when you see the people that you’re carrying walk out to the aircraft and know that ultimately they are your responsibility.”
Taylor, a Texan from San Antonio, enrolled in the Navy’s ROTC program at Brown University in 1962. He chose the Naval Flight Training program and a 5½-year commitment to the Marine Corps.
Taylor said that he served as a copilot during presidential flights and was often responsible for controlling the engines, radios and the navigation systems.
He described President Nixon as typically being focused and serious in his demeanor.
“Nixon was a guy who very reserved,” Taylor said. “He was not a particularly outgoing man. In our capacity as his pilots, we’re a function of the aircraft. He’s not there to make friends with us or do anything more than acknowledge you with a nod of the head. You could tell that he was a man of gravitas.”
Prior to joining the presidential pilot program, Taylor flew more than 700 missions during 13 months serving as a pilot in Vietnam. He recalled the experience of flying the Sikorsky C-H53 helicopters.
“(It) was new aircraft at the time,” Taylor said. “These birds are costing $125 million an aircraft and here I was a 24-year-old first lieutenant, and I made aircraft commander, and I’ve got one of things at my complete beck and control. I have to tell you, it was one of the most exhilarating experiences you can imagine.”
After leaving the Marines in 1971, Taylor went to Harvard University for a a master’s degree and then embarked on a career in commercial real estate.