Local Marine dies in mortar shell accident

Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Taylor was one of a kind.

That’s how family and friends are remembering the 2010 Marietta High School graduate who was among seven Marines killed Monday by a mortar shell explosion during a training exercise in Nevada.

“Josh is probably one of the best kids … one of the politest kids, one of the nicest boys I have ever known. And I don’t say that just because I’m his grandfather,” Lowell resident Larry Stephens, 62, said Tuesday.

The explosion, which injured seven other Marines, occurred at the Hawthorne Army Depot, during a training exercise for members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Taylor was preparing to be deployed overseas for the third time, Stephens said.

While the U.S. Department of Defense has not released the identities of those killed, Taylor’s family confirmed his death Tuesday afternoon.

Taylor, 21, is the son of Jennifer and Robert Collins of Marietta and has three sisters and a brother. He and Marietta resident Abbey Malone were to be married on May 11.

Malone’s father, Keith, said his family and Taylor’s were “numb” after learning of the young man’s death Tuesday morning.

“He was an exceptional individual. You don’t meet many young men like him today,” Keith Malone said. “He was respectful to everyone, very humble, just happy, happy all the time.

“I have never seen a young man more respectful to his mother,” he said. “He loved his family, and he loved his country.”

That love of family was evident on Taylor’s Facebook page.

“I am engaged to the most perfect and beautiful girl in the whole world,” he wrote in the “about” section. “I have been blessed with the best mom, stepdad, three sisters and one brother anyone could ever have.”

He also wrote about his faith.

“I have been a Christian since June of ’08 and have attempted to live my life by the Bible since that day,” he said.

That faith is one of the things Taylor and friend Christian Gentry “really connected on.”

“You don’t find people like him,” said Gentry, 21, who became friends with Taylor in seventh grade and graduated with him in 2010.

Gentry had just gotten in from his lunch break Tuesday when he heard the news.

The first thing he thought was “Why would this happen to someone as great as Josh was?” he said. “He had given so much into the Marines and (his) family.”

Gentry said the word “wholeheartedly” came to mind when describing Taylor.

“Whenever he was going to do something, he did everything he could for it,” he said.

That included being a Marine, something Stephens said his grandson wanted to do “pretty much all his life.”

He joined the Corps right out of high school and had already served two tours – one in Afghanistan and one in Kuwait.

“We’re very proud of Josh,” Stephens said.

Marietta High School Principal Bill Lee recalled Taylor’s excitement over joining the Marines and the time he visited the school while on leave, clad in his dress uniform.

“This is just a tragedy … just a terrible, terrible loss,” the principal said Tuesday.

Lee was quick to mention Taylor’s polite, respectful nature, remembering his willingness to help out whenever needed.

“Josh was an outstanding young man, and I’m very saddened by his passing,” he said.

Taylor is the third Washington County soldier killed in the line of duty since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began more than a decade ago.

Army Spc. Allen Nolan, 38, of Marietta, a married father of five, died Sept. 30, 2004, after being wounded in an attack on a convoy in Balad, northwest of Iraq.

Army 1st Lt. Chris Rutherford, 25, of Newport, was killed July 2, 2007, by a roadside bomb that detonated near his vehicle outside Balad.