MEMORIAL DAY: Honoring the 135th fallen Aggie

Mark Taylor earned his B.S. in biochemistry in 1986 but couldn’t stay for commencement. Duty called with the California Army National Guard.

Besides his degree, the Stockton native had earned the rank of second lieutenant after serving in UC Davis’ Army ROTC. As soon as he graduated, he hurried off to Fort Sill, Okla., for officer training in the field artillery.

Mark Taylor
Mark Taylor

Fast forward to 2004. He had become a surgeon in the Army and was on his second deployment in the Iraq War. Days before he was due to come home, he was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on his clinic near Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad. He was 41.

He is the last known Aggie to die in military service. Now, in the 10th anniversary year of his death, Taylor’s story is being added to UC Davis’ Golden Memory Book, to go with 134 other stories of Aggies who died in the military, from World Wars I and II, to Korea and Vietnam, and now to the Iraq War.

The book will be rededicated, with Taylor’s page, during this year’s campus Memorial Day ceremony, Thursday, May 22, on the north side of the Memorial Union — dedicated upon its opening in 1955 to the memory of Aggies who made the ultimate sacrifice. See box for details on the ceremony.


WHAT: Memorial Day Ceremony, presented by Campus Recreation and Unions

WHEN: 5-5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 22 (reception follows, 5:30-6:30)

WHERE: Memorial Union North Plaza

The program includes ROTC color guard (all UC Davis students, some who are cadets in UC Davis' Army ROTC and some who are midshipmen in UC Berkeley's Navy ROTC), the national anthem (sung by student Brian Chiang) and a wreath presentation, as well as remarks by Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor of Student Affairs, and Liam Burke, an ROTC cadet.

Veteran Megan Kennedy, who attends UC Davis, will read a summary of Lt. Col. Taylor’s page from the Golden Memory Book, and after that six student and alumni veterans will read all the names in the book. The readers: Jay Brookman, Cameron Henton, King Moon, John Paul Wallis, Joseph Wetherbee and Claire White.

Vice Chancellor de la Torre will then preside as Lt. Col. Patrick Rose and Master Sgt. Kevin Tretter, both from the campus's Army ROTC cadre, present a framed copy of Lt. Col. Taylor's page to his mother. Taps will conclude the ceremony.

A reception will follow in Griffin Lounge, in the Memorial Union. The Golden Memory Book will be on display, and the pages will be projected individually onto a screen.

“They were our students, our alumni, taken far too early,” said Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor of Student Affairs. “Their sacrifice is never forgotten.

“We are particularly honored this year to recognize Lieutenant Colonel Taylor, who, sadly, becomes the 135th entry in the Golden Memory Book.”

Taylor’s mother, Roberta Taylor of Stockton, who will attend the ceremony, said she is pleased to see her son remembered at UC Davis. “He chose it because it was close to home, and he liked it,” the retired schoolteacher said of her only child. The university, she said, had nurtured two of her son’s passions: medicine and the military.


Mark Douglas Taylor enrolled at UC Davis in the fall of 1982 as a junior transfer from San Joaquin Delta College. He was born and raised in Stockton, where he graduated from Lincoln High School in 1980.

“I never needed to ask him if he had done his homework,” his mother said. “How many mothers can say that?”

He was equally diligent in college. His friend Cathy Hilton Conrad, who met Taylor at Delta College and also transferred to UC Davis, recalled how she and Taylor would study together almost every night, either in Shields Library or the Physical Sciences and Engineering Library. “He was always the one to be organizing study groups,” said Conrad, who graduated in 1985.

Once when Taylor’s parents came to visit, and they could not find him at home, they tried the library. “The librarian knew right where he was,” his mother said during a recent interview at her Stockton home. The U.S. flag flies outside and a Gold Star banner hangs in a window near the front door — indicating the family inside has lost a child in war.

Taylor lived in a residence hall his first year at UC Davis, then pledged the Theta Xi Fraternity and lived there. He called himself “the invisible pledge,” because he’d finish his pledge duties as quickly as possible, then hurry off to study.

Fraternity brother Dave Panconi, who met Taylor in the residence halls, said he remembers Mark’s studying — and his power naps! “He was always asking us to wake him up in a half hour,” Panconi recalled.

But, he added, “Mark had a good balance in his life.”

“He was a great guy, very loyal, someone you could count on,” said Panconi ’85.


It has a page for each of our Gold Star Aggies — “Gold Star” is a term that surviving family members might use, as in Gold Star Mother or Gold Star Father, to indicate the loss of a child in war — and it is kept in a display case in a corner of Griffin Lounge in the MU. Soon the book will have a new home, in the MU renovation scheduled to start in the fall. The plans include a memorial wall with an interactive digital display that will provide direct access to each page in the memory book. See a rendering of what the new wall may look like, in slideshow above.

Click here for a list of all the Gold Star Aggies, each accompanied by class year at UC Davis, branch of service, highest rank and the war in which the Aggie lost his life. Digital scans of every page of the Golden Memory Book can be seen in this PDF.

He recalled how he and other fraternity members referred to Taylor, in a good-natured way, as “GI Joe,” prepping for duty in the artillery. Little did they know that this GI Joe would end up being Dr. GI Joe.


Taylor followed his father’s footsteps into the military. Robert “Doug” Taylor served in the California Army National Guard for nearly 40 years, attaining the rank of colonel, while also having a career in the California Highway Patrol, retiring as a captain.

Father and son both started out in the artillery. Doug Taylor would eventually become a helicopter pilot, while his son would move into medicine.

Mark was a “gentle soul,” his mother recalled, who had volunteered at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, and, while attending UC Davis, at the university’s medical center in Sacramento.

But he hadn’t planned on being a physician. Instead, after graduating from UC Davis and completing his officer training at Fort Sill, he took his biochemistry degree to pharmacy school at UC San Francisco.

He graduated in 1991, focusing on clinical pharmacy, and took a position at a San Francisco hospital. “He was following the doctors around, filling their prescriptions, and figured he might as well be a doctor himself,” his mother said.

So he was off to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., earning a master’s in public health as well as a medical degree. “If there was a degree to be had, he had it,” his mother said.

Taylor took a military scholarship for his last three years at George Washington (he graduated in 1996); in return, he owed three years on active duty.

He completed an internship in surgery at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis (now part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord) in Washington, and, while on deferment from the Army, completed his residency in surgery at UC Irvine before returning to active duty in 2001

He was assigned to Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the “All-American” 82nd Airborne Division. It’s a division of paratroopers, and, to be one of them, Taylor had to jump like them — out of planes.

He was in his late 30s, early 40s — remember, he had been through pharmacy school and medical school, and a five-year residency — but still managed to poke fun at himself. “When I jump out of a plane, it takes me three days to recuperate,” he told his friend Conrad in a letter.  “I’m getting too old for this. I look around and I’m the oldest guy doing it.”


In March 2003, the United States went to war with Iraq a second time, and Taylor found himself in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was deployed for a few months in the first half of 2003, and sent back in August.

“I can’t think of a finer thing that I’d rather be doing than taking care of our soldiers,” he wrote home during a break from the operating room, where he wore an American flag surgical bandana.

He operated on civilians, too, like a little girl with a ruptured appendix, and other children, too, and they came back to see him — as seen in a photograph, crowded around him, one of them wearing his helmet. He made friends with a barber, too, and treated him for sinus problems.

Taylor "had a great sense of humor and could relate to all types of people,” recalled George Bal, the surgeon in charge on both of Taylor’s deployments to Iraq. Turns out they were both UC Davis alumni, earning their undergraduate degrees in the same year, 1986. But Bal didn’t belong to ROTC, and he didn’t know Taylor from elsewhere on campus.

They would meet at Fort Bragg, where they worked at the base hospital whenever they weren’t training for war or going to war. “His patients loved him,” Bal said, noting how a good number of them attended a memorial service.

Bal said Taylor was excited about going to Iraq, recalling how his fellow doctor had remarked, "That’s what we’ve been training for.”

Once there, “He was probably the most experienced general surgeon I had,” said Bal, an orthopedic surgeon. “If we had complicated stuff come in, I would turn to him.”

“Complicated” could include injuries from improvised explosive devices or direct gunshot, and accidents, too.

Bal led the Forward Surgical Team, 782nd Main Support Battalion — "forward" as in near the front lines and thus better able to quickly treat injured troops. And “forward” as in danger, like mortar or grenade attacks at least every other day, Bal said. He and his team lived and worked inside a large compound, where, luckily, the ordnance usually landed on open ground.

Until March 20, 2004, when the enemy launched a particularly heavy attack. Taylor was felled outside the clinic, as he urged his fellow soldiers to get inside. He had been in the process of making a phone call; afterward, Marines found his parents’ number on the dialing screen.

The attack also killed Sgt. Matthew J. Sandri, a 24-year-old combat medic. The Army honored both of them in the naming of the Taylor/Sandri Medical Training Center at Fort Bragg in 2008.

Bal, who never went back to Iraq and today serves as the chief of sports medicine at West Virginia University, said he thinks of both soldiers every day and, specific to Taylor, of his promise as a surgeon: “He had everything in front of him.”

Taylor had a promotion in store, too, having earned the rank of lieutenant colonel — which was granted posthumously.



Taylor never complained about going to Iraq, his father said in an interview shortly after his son’s death. “He said, ‘Sure, I wish I didn’t have to go,’ but he says, ‘I’m going … I’m not being left behind.’”

Doug Taylor died a year and a half after his son. Today, his wife echoes her husband’s thoughts about their patriot son: “He was a soldier, doing his duty. We were so proud of him.”

Upon deploying to Iraq the last time, Taylor gave a set of his dog tags to his 6-year-old son Connor, telling him, "Wear them until Daddy comes home." Upon Taylor’s death, the dog tag story made it into newspapers around the country. Connor is a teenager now, living in Southern California with his mother; she and Taylor had divorced before he was assigned to Fort Bragg.

Taylor gave something to his mother, too: an 82nd Airborne Division pin — and she still wears it every day to honor her hero son.

Soon UC Davis will have its own way of honoring Taylor every day, by memorializing his duty, courage and sacrifice for all time in the Golden Memory Book.

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Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,

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