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thedrifter
12-11-05, 08:11 AM
Posted on Sun, Dec. 11, 2005
Hundreds mourn Macon Marine
By Matt Barnwell
TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER

The Christmas tree that rose above Cpl. William "Billy" Taylor's coffin - though seemingly out of sync with the somber mood of a funeral - contained beneath it Middle Georgia's final tribute to the fallen Marine: toys for tots.

They were but a small collection of the more than 400 toys that were donated in honor of Taylor's love of children and sacrifice to his country. It was Nov. 30 when, during a firefight in Fallujah, Iraq, a bullet slipped through a small gap in Taylor's Kevlar vest and killed the 26-year-old father, two months after he had landed in Iraq.

About 250 people - including Macon Mayor Jack Ellis, State Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, and U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga. - attended the service Saturday at Mabel White Baptist Church. A sprinkling of military and law enforcement uniforms mixed into the crowd. A small band of Harley-Davidson bikers showed up as well.
Some of those who knew Taylor remembered a young man with a large personality. Someone who, at a point when he could have gone adrift in life, instead found meaning, structure and success in the military.

Taylor of Macon was one of three Middle Georgia military members killed in Iraq within the last two weeks. Sgt. Philip Allan Dodson Jr. of Forsyth and Spc. Marcus S. Futrell of Macon, both members of the Georgia National Guard's 48th Brigade, died in a Dec. 2 Humvee accident in Iraq.

"I think Iraq is so far away ... we tend to be able to separate it from the reality of daily life. But this brings it home to all of us," Staton said before the service began.

"I don't know how that compares to the rest of the country, how unique we are. But to have just three right here in Bibb County and Monroe County, it really brings it home," he said.

Marshall, the only one of the three elected officials to address the audience, found himself speaking for the sixth time to friends, family and neighbors of a midstate soldier who had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"It behooves people like me - members of Congress involved in decisions to expose the sons and daughters of America to war, to the risk of death and disability - it behooves us to think of these men and women in harm's way as we think of our own families, of our own children," he said. "All Americans should think like that. Suppose the sniper's round took a member of your family. Suppose it took your son, instead of Cathy Krattli's son Billy. What would you feel?"

At the end of the service, after the Vince Gill song "Go Rest High on that Mountain" pulled grief-tinged sighs and tears from the audience, and six Marines had ferried Taylor's coffin to a waiting hearse, Marshall said he knew more military deaths would follow.

Yet it would be irresponsible to future generations for the United States to stop pursuing its goals in Iraq, he said.

"These are difficult things for me to do. I get pretty emotional about it. (But) that doesn't change my view of what this country has to do," said Marshall, a Vietnam veteran.

Ellis, also a veteran of that war, said though he does not agree with America's presence in Iraq, it is crucial to "support our fallen comrades, as well as those who are still on the battlefield." The loss of a local life can quickly bring a far-away conflict close to home, the mayor said.

"When it's someone in your own midst and your own town and your own region, the reality of it all really sets in," he said. "It's no longer something that you're seeing on TV, but it's something you are witnessing, that you can touch and feel almost."

The funeral procession down to the southern edge of Bibb County seemed to bring nearly as many people to Taylor's grave site at Glen Haven Memorial Gardens as had attended the funeral service.

There, in addition to the full military honors granted Taylor, Joseph Riverwind, a close friend of Taylor's mother, Catherine Krattli, performed a American Indian memorial song to honor the sacrifice of the Marine, who was part American Indian.

And once the drumbeats and mournful chants had died away, he presented Krattli an eagle's feather - whose cultural significance is similar to a Congressional Medal of Honor, he said.

"Warriors in our culture are always honored; in the same way, that song was gifted to that family," he said.
Close friends and family lingered by Taylor's coffin after most of the crowd had waned, remembering old times.

"Not really a wild streak - kind of like a wild highway," said a laughing Blake Lambert, recalling his friend of six years. "He was fun, and he wanted to make sure everyone else had fun, too."

Lance Cpls. Heather Shostrom and Cassandra Duffy remembered playing football with Taylor - in the midst of Hurricane Ophelia - while they were stationed together at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Taylor had a fondness for playfully tossing people into puddles, Duffy said.

"He was a good Marine, a good leader," Shostrom said. "And when he was out of uniform, he was just a goofball."

Krattli remained intensely proud of her son's commitment to his country. At the end of the service, she showed off the eagle's feather that Riverwind had given her. Wrapped with it was the baby-down of a young eagle, meant for Taylor's 4-year-old daughter Leah.

"This will be passed down to her," Krattli said, "so she can remember her father."

To contact Matt Barnwell, call 923-3109, extension 307, or e-mail mbarnwell@macontel.com.

Ellie