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Military Deaths / Army Pfc. Mathew D. Taylor, 21, Cameron

Dies of injuries suffered in roadside bombing

December 02, 2007|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

Mathew D. Taylor had been weighing a military career for months, but still managed to catch his mother off guard when he told her that he'd decided to join the Army.

Patty Taylor said her son, then 19, looked unusually serious when, in the spring of 2006, she arrived to pick him up from the house where he was living with some buddies in their hometown of Cameron Park, Calif. He told her there was something he needed, then stopped her as she reached for her purse.

" 'No, Mom, I just need your support,' " she recalled him saying, explaining that he wanted to enlist.

"How could I not support him when he wanted to do something as honorable as that?" she said. "Of course I did."

Taylor, 21, a private first class and .50-caliber machine gunner, died Sept. 26 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio of wounds suffered two months earlier when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Afghanistan's Sarobi district, east of Kabul. He had been the only survivor of the July 23 blast in which four other soldiers were killed.

After boot camp at Ft. Benning, Ga., Taylor was assigned to the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy.

He loved being based there, said his sister, Heather Taylor, 27. She said he was so excited about the European assignment that, although he had flu and bronchitis at the end of boot camp, he turned down a doctor's suggestion that he fully recover before getting on the plane.

"He didn't want to lose his chance to be in Italy," she said.

Deployed to Afghanistan in May and often on missions in remote parts of the country, Taylor tried hard to stay in touch with his family and friends. He e-mailed and called, or communicated via Sometimes he was too tired, and the missions were too frequent to allow much more than a brief greeting, his family said.

Sometimes he wrote about his feelings on where he was, on the Afghan people he had met and the beautiful countryside he had seen, said his childhood friend Daniel Clark, who was then serving with the Navy in Iraq.

"He was writing about how he didn't have hatred for these people even though he was over there fighting them," Clark said. "He could find the beauty in them and in this war-torn place, where other people were just talking about the terrorists. I really admired that."

Taylor was born in Carmichael, Calif., and at the age of 6 moved with his family to the small Sierra foothills community of Cameron Park.

A slight, skinny kid, he liked to skateboard with friends and played hours-long games of cops and robbers in the backyard.

Later, Taylor enjoyed playing paint ball and video games, including the popular "Halo" series, and watching anime. Because of his spiky blond hair, friends nicknamed him "Vash," after the main character in the "Trigun" anime series.

"His smile was so warming," said Megan Hughes, 21, a friend from middle school and high school. "And he had this sort of electric white hair, really a white, white blond."

She said Taylor, who lived next door to her grandparents, was the first person to befriend her when her family moved to Cameron Park from Alaska in 1998. "He was a very honest and giving person," she said. "I was like this weird girl from out of town, really the outsider, and he was very influential in making me open up to people here."

Patty Taylor said her son often was bored by school as a youngster, zipping through his assignments and tests, doing enough to get by and then fooling around.

"He was always the class clown," she said. "He'd get finished first and start teasing the other kids."

When Taylor was 16, his father, Richard H. Taylor, was killed in a car accident, and school seemed meaningless, his mother said. With her permission, he decided to forgo his last two years of high school and get a general equivalency diploma instead.

"He was having a really hard time," his mother said. "After his dad's accident, he was . . . holding it all inside, knocking holes in his bedroom walls, hacking holes in trees. I let him do it; he wasn't hurting himself or anybody else, and I knew all that could be repaired."

About the same time, Taylor discovered martial arts. At a local center, he took classes in kung fu and later, capoeira, a Brazilian martial art form that combines elements of combat and dance. He worked hard and excelled, his instructor said.

"He was still suffering over the loss of his father, and this seemed to help him," said Marc Fierro, Taylor's kung fu teacher. "He had a lot of natural aptitude and, after only training for a year, he could do a lot of complicated movements."

Partly to honor his father, who also had served in the Army, Taylor began thinking more and more about the military and signed up in April 2006.

After the bomb blast, in which he suffered burns over 75% of his body, he was flown first to Germany, then to Brooke Army Medical Center. He was unconscious for two weeks, and even later was unable to talk but communicated with his family and friends by mouthing words and shaking his head, they said.

Heather Taylor said her brother had been alert and seemed to be doing fairly well, but then developed several persistent infections and died of his injuries within days.

"We're just thankful we had the two months and had time to tell him how much we loved him," she said.

In his hometown, Taylor's life was celebrated Oct. 11 with a memorial service and procession with full military honors. Among the music played was his favorite song, "Hard to Concentrate" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

His sister said she has her own tiny memento of her younger brother, a way of keeping him with her: "I carry a little 'Vash' key chain all the time."


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