On the first Memorial Day since Maj. Brent Taylor was killed in Afghanistan, his widow stood before a solemn crowd at Fort Douglas Cemetery and asked them to use her husband’s sacrifice — and her family’s loss — to make themselves better parents, children, siblings and Americans.
“For those of us who have personally lost a loved one to war, we don’t need a Monday on a calendar to tell us it is time for them to be memorialized,” Jennie Taylor told those gathered for the Memorial Day ceremony at the military cemetery on the University of Utah campus.
“It’s not really a question of whether we as Americans remember that a high price has been paid for the freedoms we enjoy — of course we remember,” she said. “But the question is, do those memories matter?"
Taylor — dressed in a patriotic red dress and supported by her seven children and extended family seated in the audience — was not suggesting Americans walk around in a continual state of grief or mourning, “for surely that would not be of any use or value to those who gave their lives for us.
“I am asking each of us whether or not we have personally labored to make beauty out of the ashes of our loss," she said. “When you remember the sacrifices that have been offered for you, do they make you a better person? Do they led you to be a little kinder, to work a little harder, complain a little less, and serve a little more willingly?
“Are you a better husband or wife, father or mother, sister or brother, daughter or son because someone else’s husband or wife, father or mother, sister or brother, daughter or son laid down their life for you?”
In November 2018, Brent Taylor, a major in the Utah National Guard, was killed in Afghanistan by a rogue Afghan soldier. He had taken a yearlong leave as mayor of North Ogden for his second tour in Afghanistan and had previously served two tours in Iraq.
Monday’s ceremony — sponsored by the Utah chapter of the Association of the United States Army — started with a march from the Fort Douglas Museum to the cemetery. It included patriotic music, the laying of a wreath at the gated entrance and concluded with the playing of taps and a military prayer.
Byron Lemmon, was one of several veterans who attended. The 95-year-old, who served as a corporal in the U.S. Army during World War II — and is a retired major — said he comes to honor his fellow servicemen and to visit the grave of his wife, who is buried in the cemetery.
“It’s the feeling within,” he said, touching his heart and the flag pin on his lapel, “and [to remember] our experiences during the war."
The Fort Douglas ceremony was one of several Memorial Day remembrances held along the Wasatch Front. During all the morning events, the U.S. flag is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to half staff — in memory of the more than 1 million men and women who gave their lives in service to their country.
At noon, the flag was raised to the top again, where it stays for the rest of the day, a sign to all Americans to not let those sacrifices be in vain, said Jennie Taylor, adding that on previous Memorial Days, her family had celebrated the sacrifice and devotion of others.
“Today," she said, “Memorial Day takes on deeper or personal meaning.”
Taylor cited the Gettysburg Address throughout much of her speech, saying that President Abraham Lincoln rightly declared that those who died for our country had given their “last full measure of devotion."
“And it now it falls up on us," she said, "to give our full measure of devotion, by the very way we live.”