Sharon Estill Taylor grew up loving a father she never new; he died when she was only three weeks old, shot down over East Germany while flying his Lightning P-38 on a combat mission during World War II.
She spent most of her life longing to know the man she never got to meet, never got the chance to snuggle on daddy’s lap and listen to bedtime stories, but believes in her heart, had he lived, he would have been a great dad.
Taylor says her mother didn’t talk much about her father; the memory was too painful, she knew only that he was the love of her mother’s life and she was a war baby whose father didn’t make it back.
She says her father became a yearning for something missing in her life and said eventually that yearning became a passion to find her dad, 1st Lt. Shannon E. Estill, who’s considered to be the last man killed from the 428th Fighter Squadron.
Today Taylor is a professor of social work and psychology and goes wherever she’s invited to talk about dealing with grief and how to pursue a passion when others are telling you it can’t be done.
Taylor met with Hillview Middle School eight graders in Palmdale, Calif., Nov. 13 to talk about her dad and her quest to find the crash site that claimed his life so long ago.
Nearly 100 Hillview 13-year olds gathered to listen to Taylor’s story and some expressed fears for the safety of their own fathers who are currently deployed in far away places.
Several students expressed fears for their parents or other family members who are serving overseas.
Taylor began searching for proof of her father’s death in the early 1970s, on a slim chance that he may still be alive somewhere, perhaps in a German prison since the government never presented actual evidence of his death.
“We weren’t sure he was really dead, that’s what we were told, but we had no proof of that,” she told her captive audience.
She shared with Hillview students the ups and downs, the highs and lows of her time consuming journey to find her dad and told the boys and girls if they want something bad enough, they shouldn’t accept a ‘No, it can’t be done’ from anyone.
She assured the youngsters that if they are patient and resourceful enough they can get what they go after.
“The challenges in life are difficult, the impossible just takes a little longer,” she said.
Taylor’s goal is to keep the memory of World War II alive and an appreciation for the sacrifices the country’s military men and women made to keep America safe.
“Eighth graders have no connection to World War II and it’s our job to keep that part of history alive,” she said.
Taylor got to know her father somewhat after her grandmother gifted her with a stack of letters her dad had written to her mom and her during the war and through those letters she got the clues she needed to begin her search.
She traveled throughout the country and Europe following leads that eventually led to the discovery of her father’s crash site in Germany, which she had arranged to have excavated and was able to recover what was left of his remains and his plane, a World War II Lockheed-built P-38.
Once she was convinced beyond a doubt that was her father, she was able to bring what remains were collected back to America and arranged for a proper military burial at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.
Taylor kept some of the debris that was part of the cockpit of her father’s plane, “I love the parts from his cockpit because my father touched them, that means a lot to me,” she said.
Taylor found her father’s name listed on The Missing Wall in Washington, D.C. “His name now has a Rosette next to it, which means he’s been found,” she said.
Eighth grader Aaron Cooper said he was inspired by Taylor’s story. “She taught me that if I put my mind to it I can follow my dream and achieve what I want,” the 13-year-old said.
“It was touching that she followed her dream and found her father and was able to bring him home,” said Devan Valentine another eighth grader at Hillview.