When I started writing a local history column for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper in 2006, I visited 88-year-old Mr. Ira Lee Taylor. Mr. Taylor lived in Harrisburg his entire life and had an incredible memory. He had been my mail carrier all my growing-up years and I was in school with his daughter. Aside from that, I never really knew him. I expected to visit him once and get the answers to my questions about Harrisburg in the early 20th century. I found Mr. Taylor to be so knowledgeable and eager to talk that I went back to see him numerous times over the next eight years. His memory and eagerness to share stories enabled me to write more newspaper articles — and write with more detail — than I would have otherwise been able to write.
I not only learned a lot about the Harrisburg of Mr. Taylor’s youth, but I heard his personal recollections of the D-Day invasion of Normandy and subsequent battles in the European Theatre of World War II. He recalled the sights, sounds, and smells of war. As a former North Carolina State University student of forestry, he remembered how heartbreaking it had been to see the Hurtgen Forest ravaged by artillery. When he delivered mail to our house all those years, I had no idea about his war experience. Hearing this elderly veteran talk about the war gave me a whole new appreciation for the sacrifices “the greatest generation” made.
The last times I visited Mr. Taylor were at a nursing home. It was sad to see him in a wheelchair in his room instead of in his comfortable living room in his home on Stallings Road. The lives of the residents of several blocks of Stallings Road have been disrupted by construction associated with the high-speed rail. I am glad Mr. Taylor did not have to witness what the government is doing to the neighborhood in which he lived his entire life.
Mr. Taylor died last Wednesday, just 13 days shy of his 96th birthday. Sadly for me, I did not hear about his death until this evening after his funeral had been held. I regret that I did not get to pay my last respects to this gentleman who helped me in my writing and added so much local interest to the last eight years.