As you read this, the Fourth of July will be long past, but I hope you have had a chance this month to reflect on the incredible gift of freedom. Some messages deserve to be shouted from the rooftops. This seems to me like one of them.
At the Freedom Festival, I heard from a survivor of war and its aftermath, from a Utah-born astronaut and from a firefighter who descended into the rubble of 9/11, saving the lives of two police officers. Their stories helped me feel gratitude, patriotism, awe and respect. I was also deeply touched when the crowd at Stadium of Fire rose to its feet for Kaylyn Shinners, who lost her husband, Provo Police Officer Joseph Shinners, earlier this year. He was killed in the line of duty as he bravely ran to apprehend an armed fugitive. I’ve written about the Shinners family on a number of occasions and will keep them in my heart till my days on this earth are over, if not beyond. But, my message today is about another person I heard from at the Freedom Festival, Jennie Taylor.
Standing before us on Independence Day, Jennie said that from the time her husband was shot and killed in Afghanistan eight months earlier, not a day had gone by that she hadn’t cried but also — amazingly — not a day had gone by that she hadn’t laughed. That’s a healthy person, one who loved her husband deeply and mourns his loss, while somehow managing to remain lighthearted enough to laugh every day.
Jennie met Brent Taylor here in Provo, while attending Brigham Young University. By that time, each of them had separately developed a deep sense of patriotism. For them, love of country came only behind love for God and love for family. On their first dates, the topic of military service arose, and as they moved toward marriage, they both felt ready to allow Brent to serve as a soldier, because they wanted to give back to the country that meant so much to them.
If there has ever been a person who joined the military out of desperation or the need for a job, Brent was not that person. He was an all-star: charismatic, smart, handsome, loving, devoted, a natural leader and the valedictorian at his high school. In every way, Jennie was his equal and perfect match. The couple seemed to have every path open to them, professionally and otherwise.
But they subordinated all their other desires to their overarching will to serve the United States of America. Time and again, Brent put on his uniform and left for long-term deployments overseas. And for Brent, a military desk job would not do. He wanted to be in the combat zone, where he felt he could have the greatest impact.
Back at home, symbols of patriotism always adorned their home, together with the family photos and religious images you might expect. If this family can give their husband and father to the causes of freedom and patriotism, could not we each do a little better to instill those things into the rising generation, particularly within our homes?
Over time, the couple had seven children, and Brent was serving as mayor of his city, North Ogden, when an unexpected call led to him accepting yet another deployment through the Army National Guard.
Then, on Nov. 3, Jennie received a call informing her that two uniformed officers were at her door, that they had a message for her only, and that it had to be delivered in person.
After that call and a long drive from Provo to her home, after hugs and tears with her kids — after braving the funeral and interviews from national and local media and after a meltdown or two on the kitchen floor — Jennie the resilient stands as a model of poise, grace, vulnerability and strength.
Jennie had told her husband before this last deployment that she simply couldn’t let him go if he wasn’t going to return.
“I cannot do this without you,” she said, thinking of their seven children. With conviction, he assured her he’d be home safe.
Now she gets teary saying it was the first time he was wrong. But she also says that she’s realized she was wrong when she said she couldn’t go on if he didn’t return.
In my first exposures to Brent, I had no idea the depth of the commitment he and his family had to this country. If there is one main thing I personally have gained from their almost incomprehensible sacrifice, it is a renewed desire to foster within myself and others patriotism, respect for our soldiers, and appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy at their hands. Let us all take time to reflect on Brent and Jennie Taylor and their children. Let us be grateful for the gifts we enjoy at so precious a cost. And let freedom ring.
To learn more about this remarkable family, and to hear from Jennie herself, view the video tribute put together by my friends at the Utah League of Cities and Towns, found at http://provo.org/tribute.