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
"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
The lance corporal
last spoke with his family the day before Thanksgiving, chatting
with his three sisters and getting updates on the University of
"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.
difficult now," Jackson said. "We always see it. We point it out
to our cadets."
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.
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."
From: NEWS -
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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
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."
From: NEWS -