People who don’t have children who are attending or have attended a military academy hear phrases like #YourMidIsMyMid and “USNA family” but they’ll never truly understand. I’ve met USNA parents all across the country in random situations (airports, etc.) and there’s an immediate connection, an understanding, a bond through our unique shared experience.
That’s why news like the passing of Firstie Taylor Connors hits hard. I never met Taylor or any of his family members, but I’ve been the father of a Firstie enjoying his last summer at the Academy. I instantly flashed back to the summer of 2019, remembering the excitement of the anticipation of that last year – a final Sprint Football season, a last visit to Philadelphia’s Union League for an All Academies Ball, plans for Commissioning Week, and everything associated with that capstone of a year.
While that final year didn’t exactly go as planned (thanks, COVID), it happened. For Taylor and his family, it won’t.
When those outside the USNA family read about Taylor’s background, they get a small glimpse into the type of people our children are surrounded by every day.
This from the USNA Facebook page:
“As a Marine rifleman and honor graduate of the Corporal’s course, Connors was assigned to FAST Company Bravo, Marine Corps Security Forces out of Yorktown, Virginia, and deployed to Bahrain and Rota, Spain. He was noted for volunteer work with a local school in Bahrain and an animal refuge in Rota, and his chain of command described him as “intelligent, a critical thinker, very thoughtful, physically tough and honest — a Blue Chip Marine.”
Connors was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and was authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (2); Expert Rifle Qualification Badge (2); and Expert Pistol Qualification Badge (2).”
Taylor enlisted in the Marines out of high school and I immediately thought of my father, the 17-year-old who lied about his age to get into the Marine Corps during the Korean War. “Blue Chip Marine” sounds impressive but when you know a Marine, you understand just how impressive it really is. And think about it for just a moment – he was deployed in Bahrain and Rota, Spain, and made it a priority to connect with his temporary community. My dad embodied everything most would expect from a Marine – fiercely loyal, persistent and sometimes stubborn, and tough beyond measure. But he also had a big heart. I think Taylor and my father would have gotten along famously.
When I shared the news with my Mid, he called me almost immediately, something that doesn’t happen all that often as he prepares for his first real deployment.
The first thing Noah mentioned was that, at 24, he and Taylor shared the same age. While they never connected, Noah also realized that Taylor must have been Plebe when he was a Firstie. I hadn’t made that connection but then realized that while we were spending the summer of 2019 dreaming about the amazing year we had planned, Taylor was grinding out the trials of Plebe Summer. Judging from everything I’ve read about him, he was probably loving it.
We commiserated for a while, mostly me listening to Noah articulate the tragedy of a good soul seemingly destined to have a positive impact on countless people as a Marine Corps officer cut short.
I read several posts about Taylor’s passing, most noting the cause of death was unknown but foul play was not suspected. Noah and I talked about the possible reasons for a moment, then let that part of the conversation drop. I’ve read too many stories about Midshipmen (and cadets at other academies) passing far too early, and never did I hear about the cause and feel any better about it.
The last several years have brought so much darkness to our country and our lives. We look up with the hope that better days are coming, trusting in the bright lights to bring us to a better place. While our hope continues, one of the bright stars in that dark sky was extinguished last week and we have another soul to add to our prayer lists.
Rest easy, Midshipman Connors, your shipmates have the watch.