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John Taylor of National Archives Dies

The New York Times
By Scott Shane

John E. Taylor, a specialist in military history at the National Archives for 63 years and a trusted guide to authors mining the dusty records of past wars, died Saturday  at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 87.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his niece, Claudia Taylor Walsworth.

Mr. Taylor joined the archives staff in September 1945 at the close of World War II, whose intelligence records would become his particular interest. Despite declining health, he was still at work last week in the archives' facility in College Park, Md.

For decades, historians and journalists who visited the archives in search of obscure military or intelligence records were invariably referred to Mr. Taylor, who could often direct them to just the documents they needed. Few Americans have been thanked in the acknowledgments of so many books.

''With me as with everyone, Mr. Taylor was generous with his time and with his ideas,'' Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States, said Tuesday in a statement. ''His distinguished career brought honor to the dogged research enterprise which the archives embodies.''

Iris Chang, author of the 1997 bestseller ''The Rape of Nanking,'' told The Baltimore Sun in 2003 of Mr. Taylor's assiduous attention to researchers' requests.

''Every time I went back to the archives to see him, I felt I was visiting a mentor,'' said Ms. Chang, who died in 2004. ''He'd call from home on weekends. He'd leave a message suggesting a researcher he thought I should get in touch with. He really did foster an intellectual community.''

In recent years, Mr. Taylor was honored by the Office of Strategic Services Society, whose members worked for the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency; the Japanese Embassy, which thanked him for his assistance to Japanese historians; and the American Jewish Historical Society, which gave him its first distinguished archivist award. The National Archives named its collection of intelligence and espionage books in his honor, and colleagues said many of the collection's 857 volumes were signed by authors who refer to Mr. Taylor's help.

John Edward Taylor was born in 1921 in Sparkman, Ark., and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1945. Blind in one eye, he was ineligible for military service and took the Civil Service exam while still in college.

Mr. Taylor's wife of 44 years, the former Dolly Haney, died in 1995, said his niece, Ms. Walsworth. A brother, James, also died before him. He is also survived by a nephew, James E. Taylor Jr., of San Ramone, Calif.

In an oral history interview for the National Archives, Mr. Taylor described his arrival at the job.

''I remember walking from the front door through the stacks to 8W,'' he said, referring to an area of the sprawling collection of government documents, ''and what I noticed was the smell of the records.''

''After I had been there for a few days, or a few weeks, I started to open the boxes,'' he added. ''I was fascinated, and I have been fascinated ever since.''