Jesse Junior Taylor was born in Wichita, Kansas, on January 16, 1925, and enlisted in the Navy after high school on October 26, 1942. He joined Bombing Squadron 11 (VB-11) and was deployed with the squadron to the carrier HORNET in September 1944. Over the following four months, VB-11 carried out a highly successful combat tour, flying 490 strike sorties against a variety of enemy targets in the Pacific. Taylor, as an aviation radioman, earned a ribbon for, and a facsimile of, HORNET's Presidential Unit Citation. He served with VB-11 until discharged from the Navy on 5 February 1946.
Following his reentry into civilian life, he attended Long Beach City College for two years before going to work with several private concerns in the Los Angeles area. However, he returned to the college in 1950 and, while there, enlisted in the Naval Reserve shortly after hostilities broke out in Korea. Reporting for duty in January 1951, Taylor underwent flight training and was soon designated a naval aviator. Commissioned an Ensign in May 1952, he went on to receive further training until he joined Composite Squadron Four in January 1953 as Maintenance and Material Officer.
Detached from that duty in July 1955, he then served as NROTC instructor on the Los Angeles campus of the University of California. Following that tour, he went to NAS Pensacola for further flight instruction. The first half of 1956 saw Taylor as a flight instructor at Whiting Field, Milton, Florida. He then joined the staff of Chief of Naval Air Training at NAS Pensacola as Assistant Aviation Safety Officer.
After his tour in Pensacola, Taylor journeyed to England, where, for a year, he attended the Empire Test Pilot's School at Farmborough. He then rejoined the fleet, serving as a replacement pilot in Fighter Squadron (VF) 174. Promoted to lieutenant commander while serving with the squadron, he then attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island for one year. Next, he represented the Bureau of Naval Weapons at St. Louis, Missouri, directing the Bureau's Flight Test Division for two years. In July 1965, LCDR Taylor was assigned to Air Wing 16 aboard the aircraft carrier ORISKANY, and sailed to the western Pacific. He flew 16 missions between September and November, earning an Air Medal and a gold star in lieu of a second award. Advanced to the rank of commander on 1 September 1965, at the time of his death he had not been officially given the rank.
On 17 November 1965, Commander Taylor was flying his Skyraider during attacks on a key bridge near the North Vietnamese port of Haiphong. Anti-aircraft fire had downed one of the attacking aircraft and its pilot had ejected from his doomed plane in a densely populated and heavily defended area. Taylor heard the radio transmission about the pilot's plight. Although it was not his assigned mission, realizing that time was of the essence in any attempt to rescue the downed pilot, Taylor made a courageous decision. Having discovered that other rescue aircraft were occupied elsewhere, he took command of the rescue effort.
Despite intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, Taylor proceeded to the scene and found the downed pilot still in his parachute harness in shallow water. To cover the approach of the rescue helicopter, he attacked the anti-aircraft gun sites, despite the fact that his own plane had sustained damage. The storm of enemy ground fire soon made it obvious that the helicopter would not be able to extricate the man on the ground. Meanwhile, because of fire in his own aircraft, Commander Taylor was forced to break off his own persistent attacks. Rather than try to abandon his plane in enemy territory, he elected to try to ditch in the Gulf of Tonkin. However, the fire burned through the wing of his plane and it crashed before he had time to leave it.
For his heroic determination to save a fellow pilot, even at great risk to his own life, Commander Taylor was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.