Editor’s Note: This story first published on May 9, 2015.
Taylor Prazynski has probably affected more lives in the years since his death than he ever could in his lifetime, said his father, John.
Two years after he graduated from Fairfield High School, Taylor was killed in an explosion while serving in the Marines in Karmah, Iraq.
“They had taken a farmhouse as an operational point, and Taylor and his Marine counterpart, (Lance Cpl.) Marcus Mahdee were changing positions as they were standing watch. And somehow, someway the terrorists, the bad guys had eyes on him,” said John Prazynski. “They shot a mortar and killed both Taylor and Marcus.”
Just after midnight on May 9, 2005 — Iraq is eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States — Taylor’s parents, John Prazynski and Claudia Pierce, who were divorced, received simultaneous knocks on their doors.
John Prazynski said he wasn’t quite asleep that night, and had the windows open when he heard a car pull up in front of his house.
“The (car) door opened, the door closed and I hear rustling about and I hear someone say, ‘Call me back on my Marine Corps Nextel cellphone, I’m not getting reception here,’” he said. Prazynski and his wife thought it could have been the neighbor’s son, Alec Warner, a Marine deployed to Afghanistan.
“And then the doorbell rang and I knew that was not Alec,” he said.
The man on the other side of the door was Maj. David Slack. The notification of death call was Slack’s first. He was at home when he received the “heart-dropping” order.
“In the Marines, these people are your family,” Slack said. “They’re absolutely a part of who you are, prepare for battle, go to battle, bleed with these young men.”
But as soon as Slack said, “‘Are you John Prazynski, the father of Lance Cpl. Taylor Prazynski,’ I knew that he wasn’t there with good news,” John Prazynski said.
No matter how many dozens of scholarships have been given to graduating Fairfield seniors in Taylor’s name, John Prazynski said, “The past 10 years have been something I would not wish on anybody.”
But in spite of his loss, he said he and his family “have truly been blessed” because of the positive impact Taylor has had on so many people.
Nick Siewert, of Defiance, Ohio, was in the same platoon as Taylor, stationed in Fallujah, Iraq. To this day, when he has a bad day, something Taylor said or did — such as lining the labels on a can of Kodiak dip — will “pop” into his mind, forcing him to smile and think about his dear, good friend.
The two almost immediately bonded when Siewert landed in camp and recognized Taylor as being a fellow “Ohio boy.”
“We got talking about football and he told me he was from Cincinnati, and there’s a lot of downtime when you’re not on patrol or putting boots on the ground, so we talked a lot about Ohio,” Siewert said.
In addition to football, as well as wrestling, the two men had a passion and “soft spot” to help those who have disabilities. Taylor worked with special needs students while at Fairfield High School.
“The little commonalities you find between others, it means the world to you,” Siewert said.
Taylor had a different outlook on life, Siewert said, having “this way of connecting with people through humor and pranks.” Whether it would be a joke or sly comment when they had downtime or during a five- to six-mile patrol. Siewert recalls sitting with their feet dangling and Taylor would say, “Kick your feet, it makes you feel like a kid.’”
While male pride wouldn’t let many of his fellow Marines admit it, he said, “It really did make you feel like a kid.”
“He just had a different way of connecting with people, and that’s what really started solidifying our friendship,” Siewert said.
Siewert said he vividly remembers the morning that Taylor was killed. It was a routine mission, to detonate a confirmed IED. But five seconds after a 20-second timer was activated, the platoon started to take on mortar rounds.
Siewert saw Taylor and another Marine lying on the ground, their bodies ravaged by the explosion. Siewert and his comrades were notified of their deaths that evening. The last memory of seeing Taylor was him being loaded onto a medical helicopter to be flown to a hospital.
“As an 18-, 19-year-old kid in Fallujah, death is imminent, it’s a possibility, but it never hits you until the moment a buddy passes away,” Siewert said. “You’re running past bombs, you’re getting shot at, you’re getting mortars thrown at you. You kind of have this normal adolescent feeling like you’re indestructible … but then when a good buddy passes away, you realize it really can happen.”
Fairfield real estate agent and former Butler County commissioner Courtney Combs is a longtime family friend of the Prazynski’s and had known Taylor since he born on Veterans Day in 1984.
“Taylor had been a special kid to me,” said Combs, who at one time employed John Prazynski. “I always knew when Taylor had been in my office because the cars were moved around.”
He was at his Fairfield real estate office when he got the news of Taylor’s death.
“It hurt almost as much as losing one of my own,” Combs said. “For a bright, young person who had everything in the world to live for, it was such a tragedy. But he was of the mind that he loved his country and he went to fight for his country.”
In the decade since Taylor died, hundreds of scholarships have been awarded in his memory, and a section of Ohio 4 in front of Jungle Jim’s International Market had been named in his honor — a bill pushed by Combs when he was a representative in the Ohio House.
“The freedoms I enjoy are because of people like Taylor,” Combs said.
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