SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Earlier this year, several Utah families visited the Global War On Terrorism Memorial in Georgia. The memorial meant something special to them because they were Gold Star Families – they had all lost loved ones during the post-9/11 conflicts.
Since the Global War on Terrorism began on Sept. 11, 2001, over 7,000 servicemen and women have given their lives in defense of our nation. In 2017, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial was built at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia. The granite memorial has the names of all service members who have died in the conflict.
The memorial was recently rededicated in September and those families from Utah joined hundreds of families from across the country in what many say is a healing and beautiful experience to see how their loved ones are being honored.
“It’s healing to see the name in stone, to touch it, to know that the sacrifice isn’t forgotten, to know that you’re part of something so much larger than yourself and really something larger even than your own generation,” said Jennie Taylor, Executive Director of the Major Brent Taylor Foundation. “It’s just a beautiful reminder that the price of freedom is worth being paid and that the freedoms are worth cherishing for those that do pay that price.”
In 2018, Taylor learned her husband, former North Ogden Mayor, Major Brent Taylor was killed while serving in Afghanistan. The next year she visited the monument in Georgia where his name had been added to the Memorial.
“When I first saw his name on that granite slab…almost magical. There’s not words for it. It was an emotional experience,” Taylor remembered. “He is one of those connected to the past 250 years of history of this country that have helped to pay that price of freedom.”
Inspired by her experience, Taylor knew she needed to help other families who have gone through an experience similar to hers. She came home from her trip and started a foundation in her husband’s name. The Major Brent Taylor Foundation began and worked to bring the first Gold Star Families Memorial Monument to Utah in North Ogden. A memorial that is currently in five Utah cities representing the families whose loved ones have paid the ultimate price.
She realized quickly she wanted to do more, and she needed to bring Utah families back to the monument in Georgia.
“It’s hard to find words to tell you how meaningful it is to have your loved one’s name on a stone slab that symbolizes the price of freedom across generations,” Taylor remembered. “And then to take a step back from your person’s name and see literally thousands of others. We came home from that trip to Georgia in 2019 and said we need to do something back home.”
Another name etched in the Georgia monument is that of Todd McGurn, 20, who died while being deployed in Iraq in 2017. McGurn’s family says Todd wanted to work with K-9 units as a police officer but first enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve his country.
His mother Lori McGurn and sister Tawnie Martinez from Spanish Fork say they learned of his death during Thanksgiving weekend, and that it changed their lives forever. However, while on the trip this September, they recall connecting and remembering loved ones with other Gold Star Families.
“It was healing in ways we can’t describe,” Martinez remarked on the experience. “You’re with these families. They’re mourning with you… And there’s so much love and so much respect and so much compassion and care.”
The Major Brent Taylor Foundation partnered with the National Infantry Museum and Woody Williams Foundation (a foundation that works to bring Gold Star Monuments to communities) and this September, 65 Utah family members of 14 deceased service members, whose names appear on the memorial, were in Georgia for the rededication.
“You connect with other people who have been through a similar loss. You come together and you come together in tears and heartache at first. And by the end, you’re laughing and celebrating together. The tears and the heartache are still there,” said Taylor, “But you’re loving and you’re remembering and you’ve got the laughter of the positive memories of your son or your brother or your sister.”
Taylor is hoping to make this an annual trip. They are looking for other families to help connect with the healing that comes from seeing the granite slab and feeling the names engraved upon it. Knowing it is a way to honor a sacrifice given out of love for Country and family.
“We want to celebrate not just the ultimate sacrifice they paid by dying for our freedom. We want to celebrate their life. They lived before they died for our freedom,” Taylor said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to travel. We want to do it again. And we know there’s another 60 or 70 here in the state of Utah alone to say nothing of the thousands across the country. And we just want to invite anyone that falls into those parameters that has a name on that wall to come with us.”
Families interested in connecting with the memorial can visit the Major Brent Taylor Foundation website.