"Tuesday (12/1/09), Lance Cpl. Jonathan Andrew Taylor died doing what he loved, patrolling as an infantryman in Afghanistan. He was killed by an improvised explosive device." - NEWS - JACKSONVILLE.COM

Jonathan was my wife Nita's cousin.
Jerry Battle

Jacksonville Marine was killed doing what he loved.

The Wolfson High graduate talked about the Corps since age 11.

Story updated at 1:23 AM on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009


No one who knew Jonathan Taylor was surprised when he joined the Marines.

A former Sea Cadet and a JROTC student at Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, Taylor had talked about joining the Corps since he was 11. Those who knew him said the day he enlisted was one of the happiest of his life.

"I was really proud of him," said Lt. Cmdr June Tillett, who had mentored the young man in the Sea Cadets. "He was so squared away."

That was about two years ago. Tuesday, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Andrew Taylor died doing what he loved, patrolling as an infantryman in Afghanistan. He was killed by an improvised explosive device.

"He had such a sense of honor and duty to serve his country," said his stepfather, Jimmy Branch. "He was doing what he loved to do."

It was the 22-year-old's second deployment. He left for Afghanistan about two months ago, almost a year after coming home from Iraq.

"He was in the mind-set of 'Let's go over there and get it over with,' " Branch said.

The lance corporal last spoke with his family the day before Thanksgiving, chatting with his three sisters and getting updates on the University of Florida Gators.

"He brought so much light to the family," said his 15-year-old sister, MacKenzie Taylor. "If you saw him, you'd smile."

Taylor began his military career early, joining the Naval Sea Cadets Corps when he turned 13. He was a highly motivated cadet, said Tillett, now a regional director for the organization.

"I've gone through thousands of cadets, and he was in my top five," she said. "I feel like I've lost a son."

Taylor is the first Sea Cadet in the area to die in combat.

In high school he enrolled in the Army Junior ROTC program where he also excelled serving on the honor guard and in leadership positions.

After graduation he attended The Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, leaving after a year to enlist in the Marines.

"He came back in uniform during holidays," said Sgt. 1st Class Myron Jackson, who runs Wolfson's JROTC program. "That was a highlight of our day."

Taylor's photo sits in the middle of Jackson's classroom, part of a collage of students who have gone on to join the military.

"It's really difficult now," Jackson said. "We always see it. We point it out to our cadets."

Taylor's family plans to go to Dover Air Force Base this week to welcome his body back to American soil. His remains will then be brought to Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

The base has already begun preparing for the return, which typically include an outpouring of support on and around the air station.

This outpouring might be a big bigger than typical: Taylor's father, a Navy veteran, works at the base while his stepfather, an Army veteran, works with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

"All the stops are going to be pulled out," Branch said. "He's going to get the hero's welcome he deserves."


timothy.gibbons@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4103

Fallen Jacksonville Marine laid to rest

Jonathan Taylor had wanted to be a warrior since he was a boy - not just to fight but to serve.

"Jonathan was one of those idealists," James Miller, Taylor's history teacher at Wolfson High School, said Wednesday. "He understood why we started this country. He got the sacrifices behind this country."

Hundreds gathered Wednesday at Celebration Church on the Southside to salute Taylor's own sacrifice: The lance corporal from Jacksonville was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan's Helmut province Dec. 1.

"We lost a hero," said Rik Amato, whose daughter was friends with Taylor.

Pictures of Taylor's life - trips with the Sea Cadets, exercises with Wolfson's Junior ROTC program, playing with his sisters, at boot camp, in war zones - flashed on screens overhead as the crowd waited.

The symbol of the 2nd Battalion 2nd Marine and a large flag shared space on the decorated-for-Christmas stage as two of the church's pastors and a Navy chaplain spoke about the 22-year-old Marine.

"Lance Cpl. Jonathan Taylor gave his very life as he served God, his country and every one of us in the line of duty," said Wayne Lanier, a pastor at Celebration.

The Jacksonville native was the epitome of a warrior, said Cmdr. Gerald Felder, the command chaplain at Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

"Jonathan stayed the course," he said. "You all made a sacrifice, and so did he. Freedom comes with a cost."

Later, as the procession rolled across town to Oaklawn Cemetery, motorists stopped on cross streets got out of their cars and saluted. Closer to the cemetery, people lined the road, holding their hands over their hearts and waving flags.

"We're here to honor him," said Miriam Burkhart, who stood outside the Oaklawn gates. "He was a young man willing to go. We want his parents to know he didn't die in vain."

His friends, too, were there to honor him, to remember him, as they had since word of his death spread in the past week.

"I didn't sleep at all that night," said Army Sgt. Johnson Davis, who knew Taylor since seventh grade. "I was filled with complete and utter sadness and disbelief."

Hundreds of people have since joined a Facebook group in Taylor's honor, but that first night it was just friends sitting around the computer, sharing stories about the young man who loved to shine his boots, to joke with his friends, to help those in need.

"He was friends with everybody," said Justin Wilson. "I've been very thankful to know him."


(904) 359-4103


Rural America is facing a disproportionate amount of casualties in the Iraq war. On the day when the 2,000th military death was announced, David Martin visited one small town in mourning. Click here for this CBS news story about Victor Anderson.