Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Marine Cpl. Johnathan W. Taylor

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Cpl. Johnathan W. Taylor, 23, of Homosassa, Fla.

Cpl Taylor was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died Feb. 22, 2011 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

Once a Marine, always a Marine.

That's what the family of Cpl. John Taylor came to understand in time.

From the moment he graduated from boot camp in 2007, they knew the Marines had became his second family, a support group for the life he chose to live.

To his comrades, Taylor was a fearless warrior who looked after them, his mother, Deb Taylor, recalled on Thursday. In their last conversation, she reminded him that she was sending a package of snacks, soft drinks, new socks, smokeless tobacco and other items that are tough to come by in the desolate Helmand province in Afghanistan where his unit is stationed. "He told me to make sure I packed enough so that he could share with the guys in his unit. That was really important to him," Deb Taylor recalled of their Monday conversation.

The next morning, the 23-year-old was killed when an improvised explosive device blew up beneath his feet.

At the dining room table inside her Homosassa home Thursday, Deb Taylor, her husband, Mark, and 19-year-old son Chris worked to assemble photos for a Facebook memorial. Through tear-filled eyes, Deb Taylor gazed at photos of the young man nicknamed "Butters" by his Lecanto High School football teammates because he had trouble handling the ball.

"He liked playing football," she said. "But deep down, I think he always knew that life had more important plans for him."

Drawn to the idea of joining the military, Taylor spent four years in Lecanto High's JROTC program, and earned honors in the Navy Sea Cadets program. Social studies teacher Brian Donovan described Taylor as someone who saw himself with a higher purpose in life.

"He was very patriotic," Donovan said. "He looked different than most of the kids. He was very neat and wore his hair high and tight in a military style cut. You could tell he was determined to live up to being a Marine."

After graduation in 2006, Taylor went directly into the Marines where he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Deb Taylor said her son quickly latched onto the brotherhood of his close-knit unit. On an early visit home, she noticed he had a tattoo of the Marine Corps "Devil Dogs" symbol on his chest. Over time, Taylor added several more on his torso, including the names of fallen comrades.

Through his four deployments with a Marine combat unit in Iraq and Afghanistan, Taylor never complained of the conditions or the dangers. Deb Taylor said she got a call one night from her son telling her that he had coordinated communications for several combat units engaged in a firefight.

"I thought, 'Here is this 20-year-old kid who's found something special that's going to be with him for the rest of his life," she said. "That's how proud he was of being a Marine."

As was his request, John Taylor will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His parents plan to have a memorial service for local friends and family at a later date.

Deb Taylor still plans to send the package to her son's unit. She thinks it will make a fitting memorial.

"He was always thinking of them," she said. "I know they'll never forget him."

When the two Marines in their dress blues showed up Tuesday evening at his Homosassa home, Mark Taylor thought they were coming to talk to his son Christopher, who was thinking about joining up.

One glance at the somber Marines and Taylor knew better. "I looked at them and broke down, and I knew it wasn't for him," says Taylor.

They were there to tell them about his middle son, Johnathan, 23, a Marine corporal who was on his fourth tour of duty, this time volunteering to return to Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

"I knew John wasn't coming home the way we wanted him to," says Taylor.

Johnathan Taylor was killed about an hour-and-a-half before the Marines arrived, Taylor says. He was on patrol when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. Jonathan Taylor was placed on a helicopter but died before it landed.

Mark Taylor spent part of today packing and getting ready for a flight this afternoon to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they will take part in the dignified transfer ceremony welcoming Johnathan's body back home.

Johnathan Taylor was born in Hickory, N.C., on Aug. 14, 1987. and moved to Florida with his family when he was about 12.

"I was having health problems and needed to be someplace warm," says Taylor.

Johnathan Taylor wore No. 83 when he played tight end at Lecanto High School. Though he couldn't hold on to the football, Johnathan held on to his interest in serving the country. "He loved the Marine Corps," says Taylor. "He loved to serve his country and was upset over 9/11.

He remembered that when he was younger and always talked about going into the Marine Corps, because that was the toughest outfit."

Even before he graduated from Lecanto High School in 2006, Johnathan Taylor displayed military leadership skills as a Sea Cadet attending summer programs at Admiral Farragut Academy in Tampa, says his dad. As a teenager of 16 or 17, he was an honor cadet in charge of the rest of the cadets, Taylor said.

After high school, Johnathan Taylor worked at a local quarry before finally enlisting around Thanksgiving in 2007.

"His expertise was hand-to-hand and close-quarter combat," says Taylor, who says in four tours, his son saw plenty of both. His first tour of duty was in 2008, when he went to Anbar Province in Iraq, where he was stationed for seven months, says Taylor.

Johnathan Taylor returned to Camp Lejeune, then left again, this time to Afghanistan, "where his company was part of the biggest airlift since Vietnam, dropped the furthest south, into the middle of a Taliban stronghold on April 2, 2009."

He lost one of his best friends that day, and six others soon after, says his dad. "He knew the dangers," says Taylor. "He was very proud - 90 percent me. I always told him you would never die, your body will, but you spiritually will never die, your spirit is what makes you up. He was a firm believer and had no problem laying himself down for his fellow man. The world is a better place for people like that."

After returning from his 2009 tour, Johnathan Taylor volunteered to go back. He returned in November and, after training 140 new recruits at Lejeune, went back again on Jan. 12.

Last night, Christopher Taylor went to honor his brother by getting a similar tattoo and haircut, says Taylor. "He got a tattoo on his right shoulder, like John had, with the Marine emblem," says Taylor.

"I think I talked him out of joining," says Taylor. "I want him to go to college."

About 12 hours before what would be his last patrol, Johnathan Taylor called home and spoke to his mother, Deborah. "He said, 'I love you,'" recalls Taylor. "He said, 'I have to leave in the morning. I have to get socks and shoes on and go on patrol.'" He never made it home from patrol.

Marine Cpl. Johnathan W. Taylor was killed in action on 2/22/11.

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