Fallen soldiers memorialized

Published 3:30 am Friday, February 13, 2009

By Staff
Families honor local men killed in action
Staff Writer
Memories of their lives are forever etched in stone. The gravestones speak of heroism, bravery and compassion for the country they loved.
U.S. Army Spc. Joel Taylor, Army Cpl. Kevin McCray Jones and Air Force Cpt. Patrick Olsen were all killed in action years apart from each other, but the gravestones serve as a last living memorial, a unifying force of sorts.
But these are no ordinary gravestones: The carving is elaborate, the surrounding memorabilia evocative.
The memorials are made of black granite, which helps illuminate the carefully carved etchings in the shimmering sun.
Taylor’s grave rests in the Taylor Family Cemetery off the lip of N.C. Highway 32 near Pinetown. It sits a short walk away from his father’s house. Scottie, a captain with the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS-Inspections Department, regularly checks on his fallen son.
The grave site feels like a holy temple, with church chimes softly echoing off the oak trees sheltering Taylor. The chimes, which hang directly above his grave, are joined by keepsakes left behind by loved ones and friends.
Taylor’s grave reads: “Son, Brother, Friend, Warrior, Hero in God’s Hands.”
The picture etched into its side is of Joel Taylor, stoic in his combat fatigues. It was a picture his family agreed on.
Scottie Taylor recalled the last time his son was on leave.
Taylor told his father he had to get back to his guys, to the War in Iraq. His love for his comrades and friends is echoed in the gravestone.
The backside of the grave shows Taylor in his other element, the outdoors.
Taylor, 20, was killed June 24, 2008, by a roadside bomb during his first tour in Iraq. He was born on Dec. 24, 1987: His grave stone was placed days before his 21st birthday.
Taylor’s father said the stone is “not about how he died, but how he lived.”
The Taylor family borrowed ideas for his monument from the gravestones of Jones and Olsen.
The two soldiers are buried in Oakdale Cemetery, mere feet from each other.
Both monuments sit perched upon a hill, partly shaded by a Magnolia Tree. The vantage point gives the grave sites a sweeping view of the cemetery. Wind often swirls around the graves, humming quietly.
Loose sand creeps up and partially covers Jones’ flat gravestone at times, his parents said.
His grave stone was placed in Oakdale in early 2006. For months, Jones’ parents checked on their son almost daily.
Jones, 21, was killed Sept. 22, 2005, by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He was born on July 5, 1984.
For his deeds, he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
His mission to serve the people of Iraq shines through on his monument.
Jones’ older brother, Ken, wrote a short poem to honor his brother in death.
The poem, ingrained in the stone, reads: “That the children of Iraq may know freedom, that the children of America may never know fear, he answered God’s call to serve his country.”
The gravestone includes a painting depicting the War in Iraq. The collage includes three soldiers in the foreground, an Iraqi girl saluting, the statue of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein falling and a bald eagle.
The painting is stamped on the casket of soldiers killed in Iraq, but Jones’ family thought it so beautiful they put it on his grave. Jones’ father said the stone encompasses all that his son stood for.
Olsen’s grave towers over Jones’ on the hillside at Oakdale.
Olsen, the first Beaufort County soldier to die in Iraq, was killed in action on Feb. 27, 1991, while serving “the country and flag of which he was so fiercely proud,” reads his headstone.
He served as a combat pilot in the Persian Gulf War and for his bravery was awarded the Silver Star.
As his gravestone reads: “He gave ‘the last full measure’ with dignity and honor.”
Cutline for corresponding photo: The front side of Army Spc. Joel Taylor’s gravestone depicts him in Army fatigues. The stone is lighted by spotlights at night and can be seen from N.C. Highway 32. (WDN Photo/Paul Dunn)