In 1937, Taylor was assigned to Colonel Joseph W. Stilwell's staff. Following graduation from the Army War College in 1940, he was appointed to the staff of Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and promoted to lieutenant colonel. In July 1942, he became chief of staff of the 82nd Airborne Division as a colonel, and in December, he was promoted to brigadier general as the divisional artillery commander.
Taylor joined the division in Sicily after the Allied invasion, and on 7 September 1943, he volunteered for a secret mission behind enemy lines, going to Rome to determine if an airborne drop there was feasible. Meeting with Italian officials, he determined that the Germans had quickly secured both Rome and the facilities necessary for such an operation to succeed. On his recommendation, the mission was scrapped just as the first troop-laden aircraft became airborne. Taylor was then senior representative on the commission that convinced the new Italian government to declare war on Germany.
He returned to the 82nd, and in March 1944 in the United Kingdom, he took command of the 101st Airborne Division (the Screaming Eagles). Promoted to major general in the same month, he jumped with the division during the Normandy Invasion, behind Utah Beach. After being rotated back to Britain after more than a month of combat, Taylor and his division next participated in Operation market-garden. On 17 September, the division seized Vechel, captured and held the Zon Bridge, and then took Saint Oedenrode and Eindhoven. Taylor was subsequently wounded and was out of action for two weeks. He was in Washington on temporary assignment when the Battle of the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) began, and so, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe commanded the 101st when it was sent to defend Bastogne. Taylor rejoined his division on 25 December and fought with it in the remainder of the battle. The division then helped mop up pockets of resistance in the Ruhr, before resuming the advance east. At the end of the war in Europe, the 101st helped seize Berchtesgaden.
In September 1945, Taylor became superintendent of West Point, where he initiated various curriculum changes. Between 1949 and 1951, he headed the Berlin Command. In 1951, he was promoted to lieutenant general and became deputy chief of staff for operations and training. In February 1953, Taylor took command of Eighth Army in Korea as a full general, at a time when an armistice was imminent. He was then commanding general, Army Forces Far East in 1954 and commander in chief, Far East Command in 1955.
Taylor was the army chief of staff between 1955 and 1959. He differed sharply with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's strategy of "massive retaliation." Instead, he advocated greater emphasis on conventional forces and the ability to fight limited wars, which became known as "flexible response." Retiring in 1959, Taylor expressed his views publicly in his book The Uncertain Trumpet, which caught the attention of John F. Kennedy. In 1960, he became president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
President Kennedy brought Taylor out of retirement to serve as his military adviser during 1961 and 1962; thereafter, he was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving in that post from 1962 to 1964. Taylor opposed the commitment of U.S. ground troops to Vietnam but urged an escalation of the war through the bombing of North Vietnam. During 1964 and 1965, he was ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). For the remainder of his life, he defended U.S. policies in Vietnam and blamed his country's defeat on the media. Taylor was president of the Institute for Defense Analysis between 1966 and 1969 and president of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1965 to 1970. He died in Washington, D.C., on 19 April 1987.
Uzal W. Ent and Spencer C. Tucker
Blair, Clay. Ridgway's Paratroopers: The American Airborne in World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.; Taylor, John M. General Maxwell Taylor: The Sword and the Pen. New York: Doubleday, 1989.; Taylor, Maxwell D. The Uncertain Trumpet. New York: Harper, 1960.; Taylor, Maxwell D. Swords and Plowshares. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972.; Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany, 1944–1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.