BERNE – When Indiana National Guard Spc. Nick Taylor was young, his mother asked whether he would lend an old coat of his to a person she knew who was in need.
He refused, insisting that he give up his new coat instead.
When a good friend of his in the Indiana National Guard lost his grandmother, Taylor sat up with his buddy all night, keeping his mind off the loss.
Taylor was the kind of person who would do anything for a friend in need, said his friends and family. He had a heart of service.
And it was that sense of duty, they said, that led to Taylor’s death two weeks ago, when he was killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of mourners poured into the South Adams High School gymnasium Tuesday to pay tribute to 20-year-old Taylor, the oldest son of Berne’s police chief.
Large American flags lined the streets leading to the high school, where family members, friends, service members, law enforcement officials, government officials and others gathered to celebrate Taylor’s accomplishments during a nearly two-hour funeral ceremony.
Taylor was a member of the 713th Engineer Company, based in Valparaiso, which deployed to southeastern Afghanistan in fall 2011.
He was working to clear roadside bombs in Kandahar Province on July 16 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the vehicle he was driving. The soldiers then were attacked with small-arms fire.
Taylor died after being hit by shrapnel. One of his close friends, Spc. Sergio E. Perez Jr., from Crown Point, also was killed in the attack.
Taylor’s flag-covered casket sat toward the back of South Adams’ gym Tuesday, surrounded on both sides by family pictures, flowers, balloons and quilts.
It was a place Taylor knew well. As a standout athlete at South Adams, Taylor won accolades and assumed leadership roles on the football, track and wrestling teams.
Taylor’s funeral service featured remarks from clergy, friends, government officials, family members, service members and others. During songs, people wiped their eyes as pictures of Taylor, his family and friends flashed before them on a large screen.
Gov. Mitch Daniels, who spoke at the funeral, said people were asking about Taylor and Perez wherever he traveled in the state.
He said Taylor embodied his vision of the true All-American Boy, with his character and sense of service. Daniels said Indiana already owed Taylor’s father, Tim Taylor, a debt for his commitment to duty as Berne’s police chief.
Now we owe a debt to Nick and to each of you that can never be repaid, he said to the Taylors. But we’ll do our best.
Taylor’s mother, Stephania, thanked the community for its support, which she said was almost overwhelming. As Taylor’s body was transported home from the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing Base on Sunday, thousands of people lined the roads, waving flags and holding signs thanking Taylor for his sacrifice.
What a homecoming, she said. It was not the way we had planned for him to come home, but wow, what a day it was.
Stephania said one of the last times she had talked to Taylor, he assured her that his heart was right and that he was ready for anything that happened to him.
What a precious gift God has given me, she said. My spirit is at peace.
Taylor’s younger brother, Drew, said his brother was the definition of stud and read a letter from his brother’s best friend in the National Guard.
Taylor’s former coach, Jeff Lehman, spoke about Taylor’s dedication as an athlete, his passion, and his appreciation of family.
All who knew Taylor well spoke of his goofy sense of humor, his love of God and his infectious smile.
Taylor, affectionately called Nicky T by his family and Pretty Boy Swag by his military friends, decided to enlist after a recruiter visited his high school, his family said. He planned to put the money he earned in the military toward studying criminal justice at IPFW.
He wanted to be a police officer, just like his dad, and planned to apply with the Fort Wayne Police Department when his deployment was up in September. After high school graduation, he had the option of receiving money from his parents or taking a trip with the two of them.
He chose the trip – a decision his parents said they are now incredibly thankful for.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, Daniels and Adjutant General Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger presented Taylor’s military awards to his family. He was the recipient of the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge.
After the ceremony, Taylor’s casket was taken to the cemetery by a black horse-drawn carriage, traveling down streets lined with large flags and respectful bystanders. Hundreds of Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles followed the processional to the burial site, where Taylor received full gravesite military rites.
Taylor’s friends in the 713th Engineer Company, or Sapper, were able to watch the ceremony online. More than 200 soldiers held their own service for Taylor and Perez in Afghanistan on July 21, according to the military
The group lost four other soldiers in January when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb. During the ceremony, several guardsmen said they were happy knowing that Taylor and Perez would have friends to greet them in heaven.
Taylor is survived by his parents; his brother; his sisters Holly and Sophia; his grandparents; and a great grandmother.