Feature by Michele Katz
It’s probably not something civilians can ever really comprehend — your spouse “returning home” to receive a proper military burial after making the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“He was an extraordinary man, a true hero. He believed in serving his country. He really believed in what he was doing. He didn’t make any apologies,” Taylor Strong says about her husband.
It’s not a club that she ever elected to be part of. It wasn’t a club that she would ever want to join for life, but Taylor Strong didn’t have a choice. The young mother would now always be recognized as the wife of a service member who died in the line of duty, while serving his country.
She wears the “Gold Star Lapel Button” – given to those that have been identified as widows, parents and next of kin of members of the Armed Forces of the United States who lost their lives.
Her husband was Sgt. Charles Strong, a Marine killed in Afghanistan one year ago today from an “insider attack” at a base in Herat Province.
What Taylor Strong didn’t know one year ago when she was preparing to bury her husband in Virginia was that another Marine on the other side of the country was preparing to honor her husband’s legacy in a way she never thought possible.
Two times in Iraq, two times in Afghanistan — Sgt. Charles Strong was already on his fourth combat deployment, when Taylor– his wife of four years– received the news that her husband was gone. She was seven months pregnant at the time.
According to an interview Strong’s mother did with hamptonroads.com, “it took four flights to come across to Dover. At every stop they did a ceremony for Charlie.”
“All the way through Delaware, Maryland into Virginia– police, fire, civilians, military lined the highway to pay their respects.” Charles’ mother told a local Virginia reporter shortly after his burial that her son was an “ordinary man doing extraordinary things.”
His name fit him in every way, Taylor tells me. He epitomized the American service member. He stood up for everything this country represents. He did everything his government asked of him — in an honorable, respectable way. There will be no other hero like him in her eyes—she tells me with the kind of strength in her voice that only a remarkable woman could have. The kind of strength that a mother reaches for in her darkest hours, so she can live a full and purposeful life for her child.
Nine months old now, the little blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty named Sophie is the spitting image of her father. Taylor says this little bundle of joy is what gives her life renewed purpose.
It was Mother’s Day, about eight months after Charles died. “I was getting ready to go have lunch with my mom and Sophie that day, and just decided I was ready.” She was ready to listen to the song that John sent her.
John Preston has been playing guitar and writing music since he was a little boy growing up on a farm in Kentucky. John says his father — a Vietnam vet who passed away recently– always encouraged him to pursue his love of music.
Preston, a highly decorated Iraq War veteran who served with the 2nd battalion, 7th Marines is currently a firefighter in Palo Alto. Struggling with his own demons after the war, John says he lost his way for a while. But music, the one thing he could always turn to, helped him find his way again.
After hearing the news about Sgt. Strong through a fellow firefighter whose son was serving in the same unit, John knew what he had to do. “When I heard all the details about Charles’ death, the piano told me what to write.”
“I sat down and wrote this in 20 minutes… it just poured right out of me,” John said.
That was March 15th of this year. A few months later Taylor would hear it.
As I started to listen to the song in my car, it just immediately “took me back to everything.” Taylor says, “I knew that through these heartfelt lyrics, Charles was speaking to me.”
She said it was one way to help with the healing. While the grief over this immeasurable loss will never go away, the strength that Charles showed in his 28 years on this earth was somehow giving her strength now to move on.
As she took me back to one of the last times that she spoke with her husband, Taylor says, “I remember how excited he was to get back home.” It was all he could ever think about during his time overseas, getting back home — to her. This is the only time in my over hour-long conversation that I hear Taylor’s voice begin to crack. For just a few seconds, it becomes too difficult to hold back the tears, as she recalls: “He was all packed up and ready to come back home when this happened.”
And that was the inspiration for “Day to Night.”
“It’s every Marine’s worst nightmare, John said, “to be preparing to leave country, to be so close to the trip back home only to have something like this happen.”
John says, “I always carried a letter in my pocket saying goodbye to my wife….I did so much of my writing over there, while we were out fighting in Iraq.”
Daylight turns into night, you’re all I’m thinking of……just one more time that I must cross those lines and I’m home .. when the daylight turns into night, I will be home — lyrics from John’s track “Day to Night” from the album with the same title (now available on itunes).
According to Pacific Records’ website John is a singer/songwriter with an edgy mix of acoustic guitar and piano rock.
“I’m just a small town girl from Virginia,” Taylor told me. Traveling to LA for the weekend to shoot a music video was never something she imagined she’d be doing. “It was a little strange to watch it back and see myself up on the screen.”
John thought it only made sense for Taylor to be the one featured in the video — “it just felt right.”
The music video — which was shot in July — also features musicians from John’s band whom he frequently plays with in bars and clubs around town.
Taylor and John say this song is also dedicated to all the American service members still serving overseas, who put their lives in danger every single day so the rest of us (back home) can live safe and comfortably.
“I don’t ever want anyone to be able to empathize with me, Taylor says. No one should ever have to go through this, but they should recognize the sacrifice.”
According to a NY Times article published in March, Pres. Obama announced that he would leave 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan until at least the end of the year.
The song dedicated to Charles ‘memory, is a song that carries a much larger message — “We never want their sacrifices to be forgotten.”
As a mother myself, I couldn’t end the call without mentioning something about Charles’ little girl with the “metallic blue eyes” just one more time. I just said: “Enjoy your little one, Taylor.”
As I hung up, I thought to myself —Sgt. Strong would be so proud of you.
About the Author: Michele graduated with a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has spent numerous years working in the news industry in south Florida, including many positions ranging from being a news writer at WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami to being an associate news producer at WPLG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Michele has also worked in Public Relations and Marketing.