Remembering the sacrifice
May 27, 2007
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — John Taylor doesn’t wake up every morning thinking “my brother is dead.”
Nor does he wake up saying, “I am brotherless.”
But the Nile C. Kinnick High School teacher has his moments. His “David moments.”
And they come when he least expects them.
“There are little triggers even now,” Taylor said. Little triggers — like an innocuous conversation with a fellow teacher about computer gaming. The teacher is talking about “Halo” and the first thought that flashes through Taylor’s mind is, “I can’t wait to play this with David.”
Then he remembers.
His big brother, Maj. David Taylor Jr., died in Iraq.
“It takes me a minute to realize that kind of fun on earth with David is gone,” said Taylor.
David was killed Oct. 22 in Baghdad from injuries sustained when a roadside bomb tore through his armored Humvee, killing him and injuring other soldiers. They were in the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, based in Baumholder, Germany.
At 37 years old, David was “big brother” to John, “son” to current DODDS teacher Kay and semi-retired teacher and former servicemember David Sr., “husband” to Michelle and “Dad” to Jacob, who will be a year old this June. And “friend,” “leader” and “mentor” to many.
All of them have their “David moments,” Taylor said.
Michelle’s come with certain songs on the radio. She hears David’s voice when she jogs: “You can’t quit on an uphill.”
Even mundane things get to her, but she wouldn’t have it any other way, she said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
“When I’m grocery shopping, I think ‘That’s the kind of gum he liked,’ or ‘That’s the brand of chips,’” Michelle said. “I watch ‘American Idol’ and wonder what he would say about the contestants. Sometimes it really hurts when something jolts me into thinking about how much I miss him. But I would never give up the memories. I don’t want to forget a single thing.”
Kay — David and John’s mother — gets flashes on and off throughout the day, she said, especially when she sees young families.
“I see young families and remember the precious wife he waited all his life for and was married to for less than four years, and the son he knew for just 12 days,” Kay wrote in an e-mail. “I sob when I can’t hold it in, but the loss isn’t assuaged by tears.”
The unfairness of David’s death grates on her, she said. There will be no acceptance, no peace and “definitely no closure.”
“Anger can be a very good thing when directed at a legitimate cause with productive outcomes,” said Kay, who along with her husband, was a DODDS teachers and spent a decade in Yokosuka before moving to England in 2004.
“I feel anger and sadness at a fundamentalist movement whose sole intention is jihad with the aim of bringing down Western society,” she said. “I’m baffled that many people remain complacent and don’t believe that terrorists intend to do precisely what they clearly state.
“I don’t make peace with evil and I don’t intend to wrap up the loss in a neat package called ‘closure,’ given that it was evil that killed David.”
But Kay said she is directing her energy into helping other grieving families through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, she said.
The people her son touched are doing other things to remember David.
Eight months after his death, the family is ready to give the first $2,500 scholarship in David’s name at Heidelberg American High School — where both David and John were class presidents.
David’s college friend, Ursula Reel, ran the New York City marathon in David’s honor. Kay, Michelle and little Jacob met President Bush this month at an informal gathering of families who have recently lost loved ones in Iraq.
And for the son he barely knew, a hardbound book was created from “David moments” of numerous friends and fellow soldiers that will be given to Jacob to read when he is older.
“I can’t say that I feel better than I did Oct. 23. But it’s not so raw,” John Taylor said of the day he was told his brother was dead. “It’s like a cut that scabs over, and then something out of the blue pulls the scab off again.”
‘A great friend and soldier’
It’s Memorial Day for Christine Wertz every time she looks into her granddaughter’s face.
There she sees her son, Army Spc. John Derek Flores, who was killed in Iraq this month.
“Chloe looks exactly like him — she even walks like John did at that age,” Wertz said of the toddler. “He was such a funny boy.”
Chloe is too young to realize what happened to her father, but the rest of the family is “going through a lot,” Wertz said. So are many in Guam, Germany and Baghdad, where memorial services were held for the 21-year-old Army tool custodian.
Flores and Staff Sgt. Felix Giovanni Gonzalez-Iraheta were killed together during a May 3 mortar attack in Baghdad. Both were with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment based in Schweinfurt, Germany.
Their division held a service in Baghdad, where Spc. Aaron Patterson divulged Flores’s favorite meal — Spam and rice.
Flores was remembered as a gifted guitarist and “a great friend and soldier,” said Staff Sgt. Donald McHattie, who attended the memorial services in Germany and Guam.
Flores also is remembered as a wonderful husband and father.
“He has a great family back in Guam and his wife has lots of support,” McHattie said in an e-mail. “He loved his wife and daughter very much.”
Guam itself was declared in a “state of mourning” until Flores’s burial last weekend.
Governor Felix Camacho was in a group gathered to meet the plane at 1 a.m. that brought Flores’s body back to Guam on May 16.
“He is a champion of freedom, a son of Guam and he will forever be a hero of our great nation,” Camacho said of Flores at the airport terminal. “He is a symbol of the extraordinary courage and conviction that laid the foundation of our great nation and he is the beacon of hope for so many he fought for.”
While Wertz appreciated the flags at half-masstaff and signs of support everywhere, the pain is still very fresh, the grieving mother said.
“It makes me proud of him but at the same time, the flags and signs remind me he’s gone,” Wertz said. “It’s hard to look at.”
And she’s still angry.
She could have punched President Bush the day her son’s body was returned to her, she said, adding that she can’t watch the news anymore.
“I wish he’d stop this war,” she said.
Her son was planning on continuing his military career and had recently reenlisted to be stationed in Fort Irwin, Calif., where he was going to live with his wife, Charlene, and daughter Chloe.
Charlene’s letter to her husband at his funeral said she always teased John that their daughter looked like her, “but we both knew she was a replica of you.”