North Ogden • They stood outside for an hour, singing church hymns and patriotic anthems with each line turning into breathy white swirls in the near freezing temperatures Wednesday evening.
Their choruses where broken by sniffles and sobs. Their faces illuminated by flickering candles. And their words weighted by the loss of a friend, neighbor, father and soldier.
“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me.”
The nearly 200 people came to remember Brent Taylor, who led this northern Utah town as mayor for four years and who was killed this week in Afghanistan while serving as a major in the National Guard. They sang outside his house, in front of 26 American flags plunged into the frost-bitten lawn and in front of his wife, Jennie, and their seven kids, who stood in the driveway and cried with them.
They shared stories of how Taylor loved to assign new murals to be painted in the city and always seemed to be at the grocery store loading up a full cart of food. They talked about the amphitheater he pushed to build and how they want to name it after him in memoriam. Mostly, they just tried to console one another.
“I’ve attended vigils like this before but never on this side,” Jennie Taylor told the crowd, holding tight to her 2-year-old son and, at times, burying her face in his coat. She said she has been “overwhelmed by love” in the days since losing her husband. And she walked into the crowd to hug and greet the people there to support her.
“We regret not the service, not the sacrifice, because it’s an honor to serve our country.”
Brent Taylor, 39, died Saturday while on a foot patrol when a rogue Afghan soldier attacked him. He had deployed to Afghanistan in January, believing it was his duty to serve his country. It was his second tour there and fourth overall during a 10-year military career.
Frank Hare, a North Ogden resident and a veteran, said he and Taylor loved to talk about their service. He would tell Taylor about enlisting in 1966 to fight in Korea. Taylor would tell him about the people he met in Iraq and the solders he helped trained and the convictions he had about democracy.
“It makes me hurt inside,” Hare said Wednesday, choking back tears and pulling his jacket, emblazoned with the letters U-S-A, tighter around his neck.
Hare said he went to a Halloween party at his Latter-day Saints church a few years back and remembered Taylor showing up in a cowboy costume. He had a holster but no gun. He didn’t think it was appropriate to have a weapon — even a fake one — in a place of worship, Hare recalled with a laugh. “It just looked a little bit comical.”
Yellow ribbons hung from most of the trees and fences in town. Several sidewalks had flags drawn on them in red, white and blue chalk. And those at the vigil shouted their support for the Taylor family.
“We love you.”
“We’re here for you.”
“We thank you for the ultimate sacrifice of your family.”
Tiffany Turner brought her two sons to remember Taylor. Her husband, Carl, served with the mayor as a member of the city council. And she worked with him as the town’s youth council adviser.
Each year, Turner organizes North Ogden’s teenagers to clean up the firework wrappers after the Fourth of July show. A few years ago, she joked with Taylor that none of the leaders ever helped in the effort. He showed up at 6 a.m. on July 5 with a pan of cinnamon rolls and a pair of work gloves ready to go.
“He would show up for everything,” she said. “He really had the purest heart.”
Tracey Barrett attends almost every city council meeting in North Ogden and said Taylor made an effort to sit down with any resident who was frustrated or raised concerns. Jennie Taylor, who talked about meeting her husband while she was teaching American history, agreed that he had “a way of making everyone feel like his favorite.” Kassy Coombs, who lives up the street from the family, said she constantly bumped into him at the grocery store; he was “so passionate about this community.”
“It’s a huge loss,” she said, fighting tears to talk about him. “Just irreplaceable … the kind of person you pray will be in your life … selfless … kind.”
Coombs looked up at the family’s house and promised the community would pay them back for all that Taylor and his wife have done.
“They’re going to be taken care of. They’re going to be watched over.”
The crowd slowly dissolved, ending the vigil by singing that “the flag still stands for freedom.” They left behind drops of white wax from their candles, which dotted the black street, a reminder that they were there.
Taylor’s wife and kids went back inside their house, holding onto plastic candles that remained lit while the attendees outside blew out their flames.