Sunday, August 19, 2007

Michael Tayaotao laid to rest

Dozens of mourners gathered Saturday to remember the South Bay's latest Iraq war casualty - 27-year-old Sgt. Michael Tayaotao, a Fremont High School graduate who volunteered for one of the war's most deadly combat duties.

A slide show displayed above his flag-draped coffin offered a harsh contrast to the way the Sunnyvale resident's life abruptly ended: Michael the boy beaming toothless smiles in school photos; Michael with a cone-shaped birthday hat, riding a scooter and cuddled with Dad on the couch. As images of his life progressed on the screen, he appeared in camouflage and hoisting heavy weaponry.

Tayaotao, a bomb disposal technician with the Camp Pendleton-based 7th Engineer Support Battalion, was killed Aug. 9 in Al-Anbar province, the Pentagon has said. The Marine joins the 3,697 other American soldiers killed in the war, according to the Department of Defense's latest tally.

It was his third tour of duty in Iraq.

"He's responsible for hundreds of lives, not just Marines, but Iraqis," said Chief Warrant Officer Bryan Stotts. "I've buried many Marines like Sgt. Tayaotao and every one has been a selfless individual. Guys like Tayaotao know what the risks are, and they go to the funerals of their buddies, but they continue to do their job and go back to Iraq."

In a simple funeral service that served as prelude to a military burial in Southern California scheduled for this week, Tayaotao's best friend read the last note he received from Iraq. He had asked about a pet dog named Monkey and the next chance they'd get to go midnight catfishing.
"Tell everyone I'm doing OK," he wrote.

Tayaotao's grieving mother, father and sister sat red-eyed in the front row of the Lima Family Santa Clara Mortuary as a succession of friends, relatives and former Marines attempted to put words to their grief. In shaky voices, they poked fun at Tayaotao's poor volleyball skills, praised his impeccable aim while hunting and remembered outings to hookah bars.

"For some of us here, he's the best friend we ever had," said his uncle Felix Tayaotao, who lauded his nephew for serving his American homeland and remaining true to his Filipino roots. "It is so hard for us here, Michael, to lose your life, your love and your understanding you have shown everyone. Now that your time has come, we'll be missing you so much."

Sgt. Matthew Pierce, a friend of six years who served alongside Tayaotao, remembered him for his competence on an assignment that can involve disarming as many as a dozen improvised explosive devices in a day, often under fire. Bomb disposal technicians are often first on the scene after explosions, surveying the horror of shattered human remains and keeping cool enough to write a report and send it back to headquarters.

"One thing about Mike, he always knew what was going on," Pierce said. "If someone asked him, `What kind of bomb was that?' he'd say, `It has such and such parameters. You don't want to touch it.' "

From the San Jose Mercury News

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