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Woodside resident who served in World War II turns 100

A birthday 100 years in the making seems only fitting for a man who fought in World War II and played jazz with legendary vocalist Ella Fitzgerald.

Burchard Taylor celebrated his centennial March 3 with friends and family at the Woodside Senior Center.

“He always has a smile when he sees us,” said Krystle Virgil, 22, Taylor’s great−grand niece. “I even have pictures of him on my MySpace.”

Matthew Ancona, the center’s director, said Taylor is a soft−spoken and well−liked member.

“We all call him ‘Uncle,’ ” he said.

Taylor also got some recognition from City Councilman Eric Gioia (D−Sunnyside), who in a formal proclamation said Taylor “experienced all the 20th century had to offer and is still here to tell the stories.”

Born in Maryland in 1909, Taylor joined the Army during World War II. Almost immediately, he was selected as a trombonist in the Army band, his relatives said.

“I loved trombone,” Taylor said, noting he started playing in his 30s.

He also served as part of the military police during his stint in the service, his grand−nephew, Del Virgil, 44, said, recalling one particular adventure Taylor was fond of retelling.

“There was a deserter he was tasked with catching,” Virgil said. “They told him if he didn’t catch him, he’d have to serve the deserter’s time. He shot him in the leg.”

After the war, he left the Army and was introduced to Ella Fitzgerald, who hired him for her band.

“She used to call him ‘Baby’ because he was the shortest one in the band,” said Burchard’s niece, Yeteva Rich, who has cared for him since 1994.

After a year on the road, Taylor returned to Maryland, buying a house in the small town of Denton, where he spent the next several decades as a janitor in the community’s churches.

Though Taylor never had children of his own, he was well−liked by his siblings’ children, who remember a freezer that was always full of ice cream.

“He took good care of me when I was coming [growing] up,” said Rich, whom Taylor raised after her mother died.

When his wife, Anna, died in 1994, Taylor moved in with Rich into the Woodside house, where he enjoys crosswords and televised sports.

“I like it pretty good,” he said.

Living in Denton, Taylor was not much involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but Rich said her uncle was pleased in November to see a black man elected president of the United States.

Taylor said he was not surprised he had lived to see it.

“Because he told everybody he would live to be 100,” Rich said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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