Each year on Memorial Day, Americans struggle with how best to honor those who have given the last full measure of devotion to the nation.
Perhaps the best way to do that is to honor the dreams those people had, Jennie Taylor, a Gold Star wife, said during an interview from her home in North Ogden, Utah.
Taylor is the widow of Army Maj. Brent Taylor, who was killed in Afghanistan by a member of the Afghan security forces in 2018. The National Guard officer was on his fourth year-long tour when he was cut down.
Jennie is raising seven children, ages 2 through 14, complicated now by quarantine. “I’m only half-joking when I say I’m one small step away from really crazy,” she said.
From changing diapers to schlepping the older kids around, Taylor’s life is full of events, but she still finds time to honor the dreams her husband had.
Brent Taylor was the mayor of North Ogden when he was called up for deployment. Many people told him that he had done enough, and that he should decline the orders. That was not in line with his beliefs, Jennie said. Each time he left for deployment or extended Guard training “it was gut-wrenching” to the family, she added, but “he wasn’t comfortable just staying home and taking it for granted.”
After his death, Jennie read the major’s journal. One entry as he was flying to Afghanistan for his first deployment encapsulates his drive. “It’s a one-page handwritten entry,” she said. “He says, ‘I cannot stay if my country is at war. I am honor-bound to serve.’ And then he says ‘I would go even if I knew I would die.'”
From that came the idea for the Major Brent Taylor Foundation. “Some of his professors and fellow students at the University of Utah had started a scholarship fund,” Jennie said. “He was a Ph.D. candidate. And he had done pretty much everything except his dissertation and final exams. So I went and met with the university after someone else had begun the funds. And by the time the conversation ended, I had committed to giving the university $100,000. Then I drove away from university and thought, ‘What in the world have I done?'”
While the major had studied at the University of Utah, he and Jennie met when they were both students at Brigham Young University, so she contacted that college. “The next thing you know, I’m on the phone with Brigham Young University committing to a scholarship there. [The] endowment amount they wanted was $60,000,” she said. “By the end of that day, I’d committed $160,000, which I didn’t have.”
Jennie and many friends chipped in and began fundraising. The BYU endowment has been met. They are still $25,000 short at the University of Utah. “There are a lot of people inspired by the legacy this man left behind,” she said. “There’s a lot of dreams and goals this man had that most of us were pretty confident he would realize. He had that kind of work ethic and dedication.”
“To let those dreams just fall by the wayside felt crushing and kind of like just not an acceptable option,” she said.
“The scholarships are a start, they form a base on which to build,” she said. “I know it’s not Brent’s legacy. Brent did not invent patriotism. Brent did not invent service-oriented leadership,” she added. “He was mayor of our city when he was killed. And he stood on the shoulders of giants that I know for a fact inspired him.”
Jennie was appointed as a civilian aide to Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy in January. She will be looking at the casualty notification process and is also participating in the survivor advisory working group.
She also wants to do her part to bring the U.S. military and the greater American public together. This is her dream, she said, and each death can shatter the dreams.
“There are a million dreams — mothers and fathers who had dreams for their son or daughter, wives and husbands who had shared dreams, sons and daughters who had dreams with their fathers or mothers, friends, relatives and more,” Jennie said. “That’s really how I felt and still feel today. I know … there’s new dreams ahead, and I’m grateful for all I have, but I will tell you, there are a million dreams.”