HOMOSASSA — Once a Marine, always a Marine.
That's what the family of Cpl. John Taylor came to understand in time.
From the moment he graduated from boot camp in 2007, they knew the Marines had became his second family, a support group for the life he chose to live.
To his comrades, Taylor was a fearless warrior who looked after them, his mother, Deb Taylor, recalled on Thursday. In their last conversation, she reminded him that she was sending a package of snacks, soft drinks, new socks, smokeless tobacco and other items that are tough to come by in the desolate Helmand province in Afghanistan where his unit is stationed.
"He told me to make sure I packed enough so that he could share with the guys in his unit. That was really important to him," Deb Taylor recalled of their Monday conversation.
The next morning, the 23-year-old was killed when an improvised explosive device blew up beneath his feet.
At the dining room table inside her Homosassa home Thursday, Deb Taylor, her husband, Mark, and 19-year-old son Chris worked to assemble photos for a Facebook memorial.
Through tear-filled eyes, Deb Taylor gazed at photos of the young man nicknamed "Butters" by his Lecanto High School football teammates because he had trouble handling the ball.
"He liked playing football," she said. "But deep down, I think he always knew that life had more important plans for him."
Drawn to the idea of joining the military, Taylor spent four years in Lecanto High's JROTC program, and earned honors in the Navy Sea Cadets program. Social studies teacher Brian Donovan described Taylor as someone who saw himself with a higher purpose in life.
"He was very patriotic," Donovan said. "He looked different than most of the kids. He was very neat and wore his hair high and tight in a military style cut. You could tell he was determined to live up to being a Marine."
After graduation in 2006, Taylor went directly into the Marines where he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Deb Taylor said her son quickly latched onto the brotherhood of his close-knit unit. On an early visit home, she noticed he had a tattoo of the Marine Corps "Devil Dogs" symbol on his chest. Over time, Taylor added several more on his torso, including the names of fallen comrades.
Through his four deployments with a Marine combat unit in Iraq and Afghanistan, Taylor never complained of the conditions or the dangers. Deb Taylor said she got a call one night from her son telling her that he had coordinated communications for several combat units engaged in a firefight.
"I thought, 'Here is this 20-year-old kid who's found something special that's going to be with him for the rest of his life," she said. "That's how proud he was of being a Marine."
As was his request, John Taylor will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His parents plan to have a memorial service for local friends and family at a later date.
Deb Taylor still plans to send the package to her son's unit. She thinks it will make a fitting memorial.
"He was always thinking of them," she said. "I know they'll never forget him."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.