Thursday, August 16, 2007

Michael E. Tayaotao dies 'wounds suffered while conducting combat operations'

With fewer than five months left in his third tour of duty in Iraq, Sgt. Michael Tayaotao started making plans to attend college and go on as many camping trips as he could.

Those dreams faded last week when Tayaotao, 27, a graduate of Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, died from wounds he suffered while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, the Pentagon said.

Tayaotao's spirit -- and memories of his infectious laugh -- are helping his family cope, his sister said.

"No one would know what he was laughing about, but that didn't matter as long as he was laughing," Leah Tayaotao said. "Even if it was something serious, he could bring the light out of it.

"Those memories we have are helping us go through what we are."

Tayaotao served with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton.

He worked as an explosive ordnance disposal technician, the military said. Details of the incident that caused the sergeant's death were unavailable.

Tayaotao joined the Marines in 1998 shortly after graduating from high school. Seven months ago, he volunteered for his third tour of duty in Iraq.

In addition to his sister, he is survived by his parents, Mario and Heidi Tayaotao. Her brother's loss is particularly hard for his family, his sister said, because of the death of their younger brother, Vincent, in November.

Leah Tayaotao said recent news about the death toll in Iraq worried her but that she supported her brother's desire to serve in the military.
"Although I did have concerns about the number of deaths rising, my family, including myself, understand what comes with serving," she wrote in an e-mail.

She said by phone from her mother's home in Ridgecrest that her brother had plans to start a new phase of life, traveling and pursuing experiences "he didn't have the opportunity of doing" in the military.

Those experiences included doing more of the family hiking, fishing and camping trips he enjoyed as a child. Some of his favorite moments were spent fishing or sitting on the dock having a picnic at San Diego County's Lake Poway, Leah Tayaotao said.

She was there with him the day before his last deployment.

The loss reverberated among many other friends and family members, some of whom posted their thoughts in a blog.

"He was such a great guy with a wonderful sense of humor and a laugh I will never forget," wrote Dawn O., a high school classmate.

John Tanacio, Tayaotao's cousin, wrote back: "Dawn, I'm Mike's cousin and know that his friends from all over are starting to find out what happened to him. Mike was everything you explained and more."

Flags at the state Capitol will be flown at half-staff, according to a statement from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office.

"Sergeant Michael Tayaotao's courage is an example of the extraordinary commitment that is displayed every day by our nation's servicemembers," Schwarzenegger said in the statement. "Each time we lose a member of our armed forces, we are painfully reminded of the cost of freedom and democracy."

From the Contra Costa Times