It is rare that we rerun content from prior years in this space, but as the title above hints, in this case we have a special reason to do just that. Let me take you back to a story we first ran on June 16, 2013:
Happy Birthday ‘Taffy Tucker’
Serious Caniffites have long known that The Rembrandt of the Comic Strips posed men and women as characters from first Terry and the Pirates and later Steve Canyon, having them create tableaux he translated into memorable comic strip panels. Several photo features in the news media of the day chronicled Milt’s working methods and showcased images of the models who portrayed everyone from Pat Ryan to Miss Mizzou; we have run excerpts from several of those features in several of our books, including this one:
On page twenty-four of Terry Volume 5 we featured a picture of Bernice Taylor from Kansas, whom Caniff selected from a variety of candidates as the inspiration for his popular War years Army nurse, Taffy Tucker. Imagine our pleasure around Thanksgiving last year when we received a communication from Judith Bernice Taylor Holliday, whose two middle names were no coincidence: Judy, it turns out, is Bernice’s niece. She had interesting and good news to pass along about her aunt. After years of living in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Bernice Taylor moved back to her native Kansas to be close to her remaining family (“There are four nieces—I’m one—and several nephews remaining in my family,” Judy told us).
Bernice Taylor turns 95 years young on June 20th , and we hope you will join everyone at The Library of American Comics in wishing her the happiest of birthdays! And thanks to Judy Holliday, we can share this picture, taken in March, of Bernice holding a copy of Terry Volume 5 open to her picture:
Judy tells us that her aunt has had two broken hips and a broken femur in recent years. Though she uses a walker to get around these days, “Her mind is sharp and she is a delight to visit with.” She has also lost some of her hearing, but can still use a telephone thanks to a special device that translates the caller’s message into readable text, to which she can answer.
What may surprise you as much as it surprised us was Judy telling us that though Bernice inspired a character in the strip, she was no Terry devotee. Judy said she got her aunt to autograph a copy of TerryVolume 5, but when she showed her aunt the stories, “She was absolutely astounded that the book was about ‘her,’ as she had never even seen any of the comics, during or after the war. She had a fun time looking through the collection—although the big book was hard for her to maneuver—and laughed at the things ‘Nurse Taffy’ got herself into. She said she didn’t remember doing any of those things…LOL!
“She gave all of her scrapbooks to the family to divide up the pictures they wanted, and I ended up with the original letters from Milton Caniff to Grandma asking permission to use Aunt Bernice’s picture; the original sketch he did of her with his original signature; articles about the WWII nurses from newspapers during the war; and her Air Force commendations as she worked through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel. The pictures will have to tell Bernice’s story, it seems; Judy told us that when quizzed about her experiences in the ’40s, Bernice simply chooses to say, “The war has been over for a long time.”
Still, the heartwarming love of her family for this most remarkable woman has come through in every one of Judy’s messages to us. “We are hosting a birthday party for her in the assisted living facility where she lives. As one of the few living WWII nurses and a veteran of the CBI Theater, I am very proud of my aunt and the sacrifices she and other WWII nurses made in caring for our troops. And while they never received the honors due them from the politicians in Washington or the military ‘brass’, we who knew and loved them honor them and their service every day. She is our family’s hero.”
Judy thanked us for “the book with her [aunt’s] picture and the collection of ‘her’ antics as Nurse Taffy Tucker,” but it’s we who owe Judy a far greater debt of thanks for sharing the story of her aunt (and her) with us, and allowing us to share it with you. And why do we suspect, if he were here on the start of her 95th year, Milton Caniff would offer her first a snappy salute, followed by his most boyish of grins…?
As you have likely guessed by now, on June 21st we received a brief note from one of Bernice’s cousins, Evelyn “Evey” Park Blalock, who kindly informed us, “Bernice just turned one hundred and is still living in Kansas to be near her nieces, nephews, and extended cousins. She truly is one of the last of the Greatest Generation!”
America and, in fact, the entire world owes an unpayable debt to those who fought for freedom during World War Two. Comics fans owe Lieutenant Colonel Bernice V. Taylor an additional, special debt — after all, can you imagine Terry Lee’s Wartime adventures without Taffy Tucker involvement in them?
Please join us at The Library of American Comics in wishing Bernice a sincere (if slightly belated) centennial birthday!