Before Army Maj. Mark D. Taylor deployed to Iraq in August, he put a set of dog tags around his 6-year-old son Connor's neck and told the boy, "Wear them until Daddy comes home."
"The little boy has never taken them off," said Taylor's mother, Roberta Taylor.
The boy's 41-year-old father was killed March 20 when a rocket hit his living area in Fallouja. Taylor was a surgeon assigned to the 782nd Main Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
"We spoke with him on Thursday night [March 18] and he was killed on Saturday [March 20]," his mother said from the family home in Stockton. "The main thing he would always say was, 'Don't worry, Mom and Dad. We're safe.' "
Also killed with Taylor was Army Spc. Matthew J. Sandri, 24, of Shamokin, Pa.
As of Friday, 587 American servicemen and women had been killed in Iraq, 449 since major fighting ended in May. Taylor was one of 68 soldiers with ties to California who have died.
Taylor was born in Stockton, where he attended Lincoln High School. His mother described him as a gentle soul who volunteered at St. Joseph's Medical Center as a member of DeMolay, a Masonic youth group.
Taylor attended San Joaquin Delta College for two years and graduated from UC Davis in 1982 with a degree in biochemistry. While at UC Davis, Taylor followed in the steps of his father -- who served in the Army National Guard for 36 years -- by joining the ROTC.
Taylor received officer training at Ft. Sill, Okla. While in the National Guard, he also pursued his goal of becoming a doctor. In 1991, he got a pharmaceutical degree from UC San Francisco and earned his medical degree in 1996 at George Washington University Medical School in Washington, D.C.
Taylor interned at Madigan Army Medical Center at Ft. Lewis, Wash., and, while on deferment from the Army, did a five-year surgery residency at UC Irvine Medical Center.
While in Irvine, he married and his wife gave birth to their son, Connor, Roberta Taylor said. The couple later divorced.
In June 2001, Taylor returned to the Army full time and was stationed at Ft. Bragg. He bought a house near the base and his father, Robert, and mother took Connor to see him every two months.
Taylor first served in Kuwait and Iraq from February to May 2003 and was redeployed in August. His work entailed setting up hospital tents and treating soldiers and civilians. "He told us recently that this Iraqi woman, six months pregnant, had been shot and he operated on her," his mother said. "He operated on little kids. He was very proud of what he was doing."
Taylor will be buried April 8 at Arlington National Cemetery, where his parents plan one day to be buried with their only child. "He is a hero and we felt that that's the best place to be," his mother said.