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Francis Shirley Taylor

T/5 in 406th Engineer Combat Co

Military occupational specialty: 50 (carpenter, general)


Born 1924 in PA, Died 1982

County of residence at enlistment: Camden County, NJ
Other residence(s): Gloucester City, NJ; Miami Springs, FL
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Source: Special Order 19, 23d HQ, Camp Forrest, 7 April 1944;; photo courtesy of Ancestry®

Franny Taylor was born on April 17, 1924 in Philadelphia, PA, the sixth of ten children. By 1927 the family was living in Gloucester City, NJ; his father, George, worked on a lunch wagon. George died in 1938 while Franny was still in school; his three oldest brothers were working to support the family.

Franny registered for the draft on June 30, 1942. He was one of 15 young men from Gloucester City who enlisted in the Army between March 15-22, 1943; all but three of them were 18 or 19 years old. On March 25, they found themselves on a train headed to Camp Gordon, Georgia. There they would join the newly activated 293rd Engineer Combat Battalion, and be assigned to Company A. That spring and summer they trained in Georgia and Tennessee, and that fall boarded a train for Camp Pilot Knob, aka the Desert Training Center, five miles from Yuma, Arizona (just inside the California border). In mid-January 1944, the commander of the 293rd received an order to detach his best company for a secret mission. He selected Company A, and by January 30, 1944 the men were back in Tennessee. On April 7, 1944, Company A of the 293rd was officially reassigned and renamed as the 406th Engineer Combat Company, and the unit boarded a ship to England in early May.

That July, as the men of the 406th headed across England on their way to the war, the train stopped in the city of Gloucester. Here the local NAAFI (the organization that runs recreation, canteens, and PXs for British servicemen) served them tea, which was quaffed amid cheers from the soldiers from Gloucester City, New Jersey.

After their service in the Ghost Army all 15 men returned to the states. They were feted on July 14, 1945 by the Third Ward Regular Democratic Club while back in Gloucester City on 30-day furloughs. Franny was discharged on November 3, 1945 and returned home. But by 1946 he had moved to Florida where he got a job as a truck mechanic, working for Standard Oil in Miami Springs. On April 17, 1949 he married Mary Ann Goodlett, a Florida native.

Franny Taylor in an early airboat; photo courtesy of Miami Springs Historical Society and Museum

During those post-war years, he also began experimenting with surplus military materials (such as lightweight metal airplane sheeting, and airplane engines and propellers) to design and build airboats. Airboats today are the primary means of transportation through the Florida Everglades, and serve a number of uses in recreation, tourism, conservation, hunting, and search and rescue missions. Some rough prototypes had existed before the war, but the post-war work by Taylor and others refined the design into what is recognized as the modern airboat.

Franny opened the first airboat manufacturing company in Florida, Taylor Built Airboats. A 2007 "In Memoriam" tribute in the Miami Herald says that he was "considered to be the father of the modern-day Airboat. He designed and built the first aircraft aluminum Airboat in the world. Franny's many innovative design concepts are still the most widely imitated; and, if you own a Taylor Hull, you know the quality that is unsurpassed, as each boat was custom built by hand with great precision."

By the mid-1950s, airboating began to develop into a popular tourist attraction. Franny founded and served as President of the Airboat Association of Florida (AAF), and was engaged in the state legislative process as early as 1953. That was the year that the AAF worked to help craft the Airboat Safety Act. The association networked with other conservation groups in the state and became instrumental in helping to establish laws and regulations designed to protect the Florida ecosystem.

Franny was particularly passionate about saving the Everglades. One of his major accomplishments was spearheading the "building" of wildlife survival islands to buffer Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve from agricultural fields and residential development. In the mid-1960s, he began creating mounds of earth with the hull of an airboat, a half-track, and a bulldozer blade. He then planted trees on the islands so that deer and other wildlife would have a safe haven during the rainy summer season. In eight years, he and other volunteers created 2,000 islands. Some referred to him as the "Johnny Appleseed of the Everglades."

In addition to his work with the AAF he was a member of the Florida Wildlife Federation, a representative of the Everglades Coordinating Council, and a consultant to the Florida Fresh Water & Game Commission.

Franny received the Conservationist of the Year award from the Florida Wildlife Federation in 1972, and in 1985, three years after his death, a 724,560 acre preserve in the Everglades was named after him. (It is known as the "Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area.")

Franny and Mary Ann were the parents of four children: George, Kenneth, Shirley, and Kevin. Mary Ann was an artist and a respected local historian, serving as historian for the City of Miami Springs, President of the Historic Preservation Board, and Curator of the Miami Springs Historical Museum.

Franny died on September 20, 1982 in Miami Springs.


1930 census


1942 draft card

1943 article in the Morning Post (Camden, NJ) about him and 14 other Gloucester veterans of the 406th Engineers—all of them (plus others from the area) were being sent to Fort Dix for training

1945 article in the Morning Post (Camden, NJ) about him and 15 other Gloucester veterans of the 406th Engineers

1949 marriage record

1949 wedding announcement in the Miami Herald (FL)

1950 census

1972 article in the Miami Herald (FL) about his conservation efforts

1982 Social Security death index

1982 Florida death index*1kr1783*_ga*MTcxMjk5NjA1MS4xNjgwMjIxOTQ5*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MGI0NTljZWUtODJkOS00ZjQ1LWEzMmYtMTUyM2JiNjEwZTY5LjE0LjEuMTY4MDgxNTAwNi40MC4wLjA.

1982 VA death record

1982 death notice in the Miami Herald (FL); contains slightly different info than obituary below

1982 obituary in the Miami Herald (FL),0.35447496,0.6540099,0.5729313&xid=3355&_gl=1*18dqh73*_ga*MTcxMjk5NjA1MS4xNjgwMjIxOTQ5*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MGI0NTljZWUtODJkOS00ZjQ1LWEzMmYtMTUyM2JiNjEwZTY5LjE0LjEuMTY4MDgxNjQ4Mi4yMi4wLjA.&_ga=2.25493053.1888904535.1680732444-1712996051.1680221949

1982 Find a Grave record

2007 notice in the Miami Herald (FL) summarizing his achievements

2011 information shared on Ancestry® about his involvement in airboating and wildlife conservation in Florida

406th Unit History

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