Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Army Pfc. Mathew D. Taylor

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Mathew D. Taylor, 21, of Cameron Park, Calif.

Pfc. Taylor was assigned to the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy; died Sept. 26, 2007 in San Antonio of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle July 23, 2007 in Sarobi District, Afghanistan.

A Cameron Park soldier died Wednesday from wounds suffered more than two months ago in Afghanistan, Defense Department officials confirmed Thursday.

Army Pfc. Mathew D. Taylor, 21, suffered severe wounds July 23 when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan's Sarobi District. Taylor died at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio Wednesday.

Taylor was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based out of Vicenza, Italy.

He suffered burns to more than 75 percent of his body and had both legs amputated.

Family and friends said he had been alert and appeared to be doing well, but his condition took a turn for the worse a few days ago.

"Everyone is just stunned," said Jean Carey, a neighbor and longtime family friend. "We really thought he was going to make it."

On the phone from San Antonio, Patty Taylor is taking a break from her wounded son's bedside at Brooke Army Medical Center.

"I didn't want him to go," says Taylor, 52, a widow who lives in Cameron Park. "Being my only son, he didn't have to go to the front lines. I didn't want him doing that."

But Mathew Taylor did, because he wanted to honor his late father, Richard, an Army veteran who died in a car accident in 2003, the year before he graduated from Ponderosa High School.

This is how it happens, one soldier at a time, across the country.

Unknown to the rest of us, countless families are left dealing with grief and regret, yet discovering a strength that seems to come from nowhere to take care of the broken soldiers -- these wounded warriors -- who've served a country that can be careless with their lives.

On July 23, a convoy of Humvees on a mission in southeastern Afghanistan was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Four soldiers died that day. Pfc. Mathew Taylor, a 21-year-old gunner with the 173rd Airborne Infantry, was the only survivor in his Humvee.

"His two friends went to Iraq at the same time he deployed," says his mother. "And I thought, 'At least, Mathew's safer in Afghanistan.' And then this happens."

We like to think of Afghanistan as a problem that's been solved, but 14 service members were killed there during July alone.

Mathew was burned over 77 percent of his body. His left leg, which was missing chunks of bone, was amputated below the knee. His right ankle and knee were shattered, and when severe infection set in, that leg was amputated as well, at the knee.

On his left hand, only his index finger remains intact.

But he's suffered no brain damage, which is an enormous relief for his family, as is the fact that his face remains untouched.

"Even when they got him out of the Humvee, he was conscious and talking, and asking what happened," his mother says. "He has a tracheotomy now and can't talk. But he shakes his head and he mouths things.

"Not long ago, he mouthed to the nurse, 'I want out.' "

Patty Taylor hasn't told her son what happened to him. She just tells him that he's home and he's safe, and she hopes it's a long time before he asks about the other soldiers in his Humvee.

"Mathew had a difficult time after his father died," says Taylor, who used to work in a medical business office. "Enlisting was Mathew's way of connecting back with his father and making him proud."

It can be hard for the rest of us to understand why anyone would sign up during a time of war. But the military relies on young people's romantic notions of honor and courage and duty and tradition -- the purity of an idealism that's untouched by the reality of bloodshed.

"He thought about it for almost two years after he got out of high school," Taylor says. "One day, he told me he needed something from me. 'I need your support, because I'm going to join the Army.'

"I supported him. It was his decision, and it wasn't a rash decision. Deep down inside, I didn't want him to go, because it was wartime. But I was proud of him.

"I had family members say, 'How could you let him go?' But how are you going to stop him if that's what he wants to do? But after losing his dad -- man, I didn't want to think anything would happen to him."

She's in San Antonio for the duration of her son's extensive recovery and rehabilitation. Meanwhile, her 27-year-old daughter, Heather, commutes back and forth from the Sacramento area, working and taking care of her mom's house.

In Cameron Park, the neighbors who watched Mathew grow up are rallying around the family, just as you'd expect. Several of his friends have rushed to San Antonio to be with him.

But for Mathew Taylor and his family, the long wait -- for wholeness, for a future beyond the shattered present -- is only beginning.

Army Pfc. Mathew D. Taylor died 9/26/07 from wounds received 7/23/07 in Afghanistan.

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