'World's Oldest Photomapper': I obeyed my orders and did what I was told

News-DemocratJuly 6, 2013 

After his discharge from the U.S. Air Force in 1946, Roland E. Taff of Belleville thought he was done with military honors.

But in July 2010 he had a surprise visit from an officer of the Air Force Photo Mapping Association who anointed Taff the World's Oldest Photomapper.

Last year Taff compiled a history of his career and his life, called "World's Oldest Photomapper. My Military Career, Aerial Photography, and Other Experiences As I Remember Them."

It's a 44-page book his family helped him to do. It is full of his remembrances of his war service and has photos of him - sometimes taking photos.

Taff said he wasn't involved in fighting and didn't suffer greatly, except for being away from his family.

"By the time the war began, I already had completed six years of service. I did not take part in any battles, good friends of mine did and I respect them for it," he wrote. "The main thing I can say is that I obeyed my orders and did what I was told to do to the best of my ability."

He was a Belleville boy and in 1935, like a lot of other people during the Depression, he was looking for work.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and went to nearby Scott Field. He said he had to wait a few weeks until seven others enlisted so they could begin basic training with a class of eight.

It wasn't like now, an intensive experience with drill sergeants and a lot of yelling, he said. Scott was on a summer schedule and so he trained in the mornings and played baseball on the post team in the afternoons.

Baseball even gave him the opportunity to travel off-base, something young recruits didn't usually get to do.

He was assigned to learn maintenance on an observation plane and also was asked to take care of the camera equipment for the plane. That led to him becoming an aerial photographer.

That career would take him to a lot of foreign places as his picture in the book with an Egyptian pyramid shows.

He applied for a permanent berth in the Air Force after World War II but never got it. Instead, after almost 12 years, he got out because he said he had a family to raise.

He started a career that concluded with him retiring as an audio-visual manager with Gardner Advertising in St. Louis.

He and his wife, Marion, are members of Signal Hill Lutheran Church and Roland was a longtime trustee and president of the Northwest Fire Protection District.

He will be 98 in less than a week. The couple, whose planned Christmas 1941 wedding was delayed a month by Pearl Harbor, have two sons, Gary and Greg, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Son Gary brought the book by to show me. He said he was able to take his Dad to see the B-17, Aluminum Overcast, which visited St. Louis Downtown Airport last week. It brought back a lot of memories for Robert who helped design and install equipment for photography from the planes.

Gary said the family is thrilled to have the information his father put together and he hopes more veterans will take time to write or tape record their stories before they are gone.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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