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Remembering Roger: WWII soldier who died in Battle of the Bulge to be honored at Ohio ceremony

A photo of Roger W. Taylor and Virginia Israel was taken during World War II. The couple was engaged but Taylor died in the Battle of the Bulge, which started 75 years ago on Dec. 16.

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By ED BALINT | The Repository, Canton, Ohio | Published: December 16, 2019

BELOIT, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Sitting in the back seat of a car, Roger Taylor and Virginia Israel rode from Beloit to a train station in Alliance.

Taylor was leaving his sweetheart to serve his country overseas during World War II.

Taylor's parents were in the front seat. Nobody was talking as rural scenery gave way to city buildings, the mood tense.

That's when Virginia whispered into Roger's ear: "A penny for your thoughts."

Her boyfriend answered, his tone solemn: "My thoughts are going to cost me a lot more than a penny someday."

More than 70 years later, the words echo with a sense of premonition. Taylor would never return to Beloit to marry the girl he had fallen for after they were cast in lead roles of their high school play.

Ending their future together before it started was the Battle of the Bulge, which began 75 years ago in the thickly forested region of Ardennes.

It was Adolf Hitler's last major offensive against the Western Front.

Taylor was wounded in the chest by shrapnel from German artillery fire.

He died on Jan. 6, 1945, while attacking high ground east of Lutrebois in Belgium as a member of the 134th Infantry Regiment.

The soldier's memory and sacrifice will be honored at a public ceremony 2 p.m. Dec. 29 at the Beloit Historical Society at 17955 East Fifth Street.

Dog tags once wrapped around his neck while he slogged over frozen terrain will be presented to the historical society.

The tags were found among those belonging to 19 soldiers killed in action near the end of World War II, Col. Allen J. Pepper said in a statement.

Taylor's dog tags, along with the others, were buried in roughly one foot of dirt on private property in a town in northeastern France, not far from the border of Luxembourg and Belgium.

Time and decay have partially obscured the inscriptions.

Engraved on the metal is Taylor's name, hometown, mother's name (Mildred) and a rural delivery route.

"While further research is needed, we believe that these soldiers likely perished during the Battle of the Bulge, the final push by the Nazi government to stop the Allied advance across France and into Germany," said Pepper, the U.S. senior defense official/defense attache in Paris.

Remembering Roger

Few people in this Mahoning County village of less than 1,000 are old enough to have known Taylor.

His name, along with four other Beloit area residents killed in World War II, are inscribed on a large rock at a sign welcoming people to town.

Beloit Historical Society members are not aware of any surviving kin.

Taylor's parents died long ago; he's was an only child.

Closest to family is the woman who had been riding with him in the backseat in 1944 — his onetime fiancee, Virginia Israel.

After grieving with Taylor's mother, she eventually moved on with her life and married a man whom she had met at a dance for returning serviceman at a grange hall.

But she's never forgotten Roger.

Photos and other mementos linked to him were preserved and sometimes revealed to her children.

Most treasured is a black-and-white image where the couple has one arm wrapped around the back of the other. Roger is dressed in an Army uniform and hat while Virginia (her married name is Bandy) is also formally attired, her face aglow.

"You couldn't pretend he never existed," said Virginia's son, Ken Bandy.

Entries in a bound diary chronicling her life in 1942 refer to Roger by his nickname of "Hercy," short for Hercules, and a reference to his workload growing up on a farm.

She answered questions about her past love from her curious son.

Stories were shared about the man with whom she graduated in 1942 at Beloit High School, a class totaling 18 students.

For mother and son, the ceremony later this month will be profound.

Ken Bandy has exhaustively researched Taylor's wartime service, including military records, newspaper archives and vintage photos.

Tracing his finger along an intricate military map, he pointed to the area where Taylor was killed in Belgium about three miles south of Bastogne.

Troops had been moving from the south to the northern flank of the Battle of the Bulge.

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Conditions were brutal: Snow blanketed the rugged landscape. Tanks were chiseled free of ice. Wounded soldiers froze to death.

Taylor was with Company E of the 134th Infantry.

His remains are marked with a small white cross, among more than 5,000 Americans laid to rest at Luxembourg American Cemetery.

The details matter, Bandy said.

"This is like the culmination of a lifetime interest that both mom and my dad, a World War II veteran (Eldon Bandy) as well, inspired in me from the very beginnings of the time that I can't even remember now."

Some of his extensive research will be featured in a speech he's preparing for the Dec. 29 event.

In a way, the 71-year-old Knox Township resident thinks of himself symbolically as the child of a man whom he never met.

More than once he's pondered the different path his mother's life would have taken had Taylor survived the war.

For him, the dog tags are sacred. "A little piece of who he was," Bandy said.

"They keep him alive."

Taylor's story taught him at an early age about the cost of war. He served in the Army in the early 1970s and his son, Brad, is a veteran of the Iraq War.

Taylor's an example of the nearly 20,000 American soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge before it ended six weeks after it had been initiated in a surprise attack by more than 200,000 German troops and 1,000 tanks.

"I want his story not just to be one of the nameless, faceless stories of World War II," Bandy said.

International phone call

Thressa Haidet, secretary-treasurer of the Beloit Historical Society, got a phone call from France earlier this year.

She didn't know anybody in Europe. And she was worried about incurring phone charges.

So she let the call go to voicemail.

Upon listening to the message, she was surprised and elated.

A representative of the U.S. Paris Embassy Public Affairs section was sharing news about Taylor's resurrected dog tags.

It's meaningful for the village, Haidet said.

"He went away to war and had his whole life ahead of him and had a fiancee at home," she said. "It changed his life and changed hers."

Inside the historical society building, next to the front door, the 69-year-old Haidet pointed to a laminated newspaper clipping tacked to the plaster wall.

The Alliance Review had reported Taylor's death under the headline: "Six More Area Soldiers On Two-Front Casualty Roll."

The four-paragraph article said the 20-year-old private first class had been a trumpeter in the Depot Band, and had served in England before transfer to France.

'Heavy subject'

Leland VanCamp, 90, is president of the historical society.

VanCamp's older brother, Arland, was a Purple Heart recipient before dying in combat during World War II.

Leland knew Taylor's mother and grandmother.

On a recent cold, gray afternoon, he stood near the memorial rock, which reads: "Dedicated to the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice of their country in World War II."

VanCamp plans on attending the ceremony in Taylor's honor. Preserving the dog tags is important, he said.

"It makes you think of a lot of things," he said. "And ... it's really a heavy subject.

ed.balint@cantonrep.com

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A World War II-era photo shows (from left) Mildred Taylor, her son Roger W. Taylor, and Taylor's fiancee, Virginia Israel. Roger Taylor, of the Beloit area, was killed in action in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945.
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