SHARPSBURG, MD — Dave Taylor, a man who has attended literally thousands of funerals, returned last week from a 2,100-mile mission to escort the body of an unknown Civil War soldier back to his home state of New York.
The unknown was interred in Saratoga National Cemetery, Saratoga Springs, NY, on Sept. 17 — 147 years after his death on the battlefield of Antietam in Maryland. The remains were discovered early this year at the Civil War battlefield at Antietam (see related story).
Taylor is a local funeral director and a member of the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) whose mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes to show respect for fallen heroes, their families, and their communities and to shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters.
“When the mission for the Unknown Civil War Soldier was posted on the PGR site, I had a gut feeling that I knew I wanted to make this mission,” Taylor said. “It sounds corny, but I’ll use the analogy from one of my favorite movies ‘Field of Dreams’ — the ‘go the distance’ line echoed in my head to ‘Go To Antietam.’”
And so, early Sunday, Sept. 13, Taylor pulled his bike out of Farmington with the goal of reaching eastern Pennsylvania by evening. “I packed the MP3 player on my motorcycle with several hundred songs from the 50s, 60s and 70s and I was ready to enjoy my bike, the scenery and some great music,” he said.
Plans by the New York National Guard, National Park Service and Veterans Administration were to retrieve the remains from Antietam National Cemetery on Sept. 15 and place them in a Civil War era replica coffin donated by Parker Brothers Funeral Home, of Watervliet. The remains were transported to the New York National Guard’s Camp Smith Training Site outside Peekskill on Sept. 15 and remained overnight.
On Sept. 16, the remains were transported to the New York State Military Museum, escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders Association. A transfer of the remains was conducted by the New York Forces Military Honor Guard and members of a Civil War re-enactors group. The Unknown Soldier lay in repose overnight, guarded by the Honor Guard and the re-enactors.
A military funeral was conducted at Saratoga National Cemetery, 147 years to the day he died in battle. He is the first unknown to be buried in the cemetery.
Taylor, who said he is not a Civil War buff, never has been and never will be, was a bit awe-struck when he arrived at Antietam. “I can only imagine what Gettysburg, and other Civil War cemeteries must be like,” he said.
As Taylor was walking into the visitors center for directions, he noticed the “head dawg” from Albany, NY. He too had recently arrived and was figuring out where he was to stage.
“We talked for a few minutes and he gave me lots of information about the “find” of the veteran and what all had transpired for the previous nine months putting this “mission” together.
“He said every time he opened up his e-mail account there was e-mail from PGR’ers everywhere wanting more information. He said what started out to be a very simple “transport” mission had blossomed into a tribute like he had never seen. I told him I couldn’t explain why I was there other than something inside my gut told me to ‘GO’.”
Taylor was present for the transfer ceremony in Antietam and then rode a couple hundred miles with the procession toward Saratoga when his cell phone went off. He was needed at home and broke off, pointed his bike toward Farmington and rolled into his garage 1,057 non-stop miles later. “Needless to say, I rode home all the way with a ‘warm and fuzzy’ sensory overload,” he said.
Taylor said he was sad, but not upset that he didn’t get to finish the mission. “I’ve been paged away too many times, for too many years from too many events and come to accept it as an occupational-hazard.
“I felt truly honored to have been able to participate as much as I did,” he said.
“The respect, honor, pomp and ceremony I witnessed to this soldier, unknown but to God, were truly humbling. Each Patriot Guard mission I participate in gives me a good case of ‘Warm’n’Fuzzies,’ before, during and afterwards. This mission in particular is something I’ll never forget.
“In a corny way, my daughter just presented us with our first grandchild, a couple of months ago — a grandson named Jackson Thomas Boyd. In my mind I decided I would celebrate his arrival and dedicate this mission to him,” Taylor said.
Taylor and his wife, Ann, purchased Miller Funeral Home in Farmington in 1977 and renamed it Taylor Funeral Service, Inc., in 1988.
Taylor began work in Farmington as a mortician in 1973, upon graduation from mortuary school. He worked in Saudi Arabia from 1975-78 as the ARAMCO mortician and then returned to Farmington in 1978.
He said he first became interested in the Patriot Guard Riders in 2006 when his establishment was providing the services for U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Michael Deason who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
A liaison for the Patriot Guard contacted him and asked permission to contact the family so they could offer their services. He explained to Taylor that the PGR riders just wanted to “shield” the family’s view of any protesters as much as possible and lend support to the family of the fallen soldiers.
“This was a very crucial time in our state as the funeral for SSG Deason was to be the first military funeral after the State of Missouri had enacted new laws and regulations limiting access by protesters at military funerals.
“This made the Kansas folks even more empowered to wreak havoc at SSG Deason’s funeral. The spokesman for the Kansas group called a local morning radio show and proudly proclaimed their intent to come to Farmington and ‘do their thing.’ They were not going to have their rights trampled by Missouri. The rally cry was posted on their Web site. We were braced for an onslaught,” he said.
“I don’t have a good answer for why I do this. It just feels right to be able to do something like this and give back. I felt the same way when I gave more than 300 kids their first flight in my plane and flew numerous volunteer mercy medical missions across the Midwest.
“I was active with both EAA/Young Eagles and AirLifeLine for years and am probably known better throughout the Midwest for my participation in those endeavors, than I am here at home.
“The warm’n’fuzzy sensation is made better by knowing that I have a very capable right-hand at work (Ann) and very dedicated and capable staff to take care of things at work while I’m away.” Taylor said.
Sherry Greminger is managing editor for the Daily Journal and may be reached at 573-431-2010 or email@example.com .