A native of the South Side of Chicago, Vernon Taylor received his draft notice shortly after graduating high school in 1969 and was fully prepared to embrace a military adventure. After taking his physical in January 1970, he attempted to enlist in the Army with hopes of attending the training to become an airborne ranger.
“I was sent for a second physical in February 1970 and they said that I failed that one; they listed me as ‘medically unfit,’” said Taylor. “Then, in May 1970, I received my induction notice from my first physical and my 4-F card (medical disqualification code) from my second physical in the same week,” he chuckled.
When reporting for his induction, he was sent home because the military authorities had discovered the medical disqualification from his second physical. Believing he would not have an opportunity to enter the service, Taylor spent the next few years working in Chicago-area factories.
"Driving to work every day, I passed a billboard with a Marine dressed in his dress blues,” he recalled. “One day I just decided to go to the Marine recruiting office and they were able to waive my medical exemptions and I was off to boot camp in San Diego in the spring of 1975,” he added.
The 24-year-old then completed the four-week Infantry Training School at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, where he trained as a machine-gunner. It was during this period, he added, that he and his fellow Marines spent time guarding the perimeter of a Vietnamese refugee camp set up on the base. In November 1975, he received orders for Sea School in San Diego and, was then assigned to the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) based at the Alameda Naval Station. He performed a range of duties aboard the aircraft carrier to include working in the brig, guarding controlled areas, damage control and administrative tasks.
“I did two years aboard the Enterprise, which included a Western Pacific tour,” Taylor said. “One of the most interesting experiences was when we had the 201st Marine Corps Ball in Australia in 1976 at a venue in downtown Hobart, Tasmania. Another one,” he added, “was training aboard the Enterprise to evacuate the US Embassy in Uganda in 1977, when Idi Amin threatened to attack it.”
When the sea tour was completed in November 1977, the Marine was transferred to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and performed administrative duties for an infantry company until receiving his discharge in April 1979.
“At the time, I was 28 years old and didn’t think that I could do another 16 years to retire with the Corps because of the physical demands,” he said.
Returning to Chicago, he became a police officer in the Chicago suburb of Justice, Illinois, in December 1979. Three years later, he decided to relocate and care for his parents when they moved to Ava, Missouri. After working a couple of years for small town police departments, he was hired as a guard at the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) in Jefferson City in 1984. The following year, the former Marine made the decision to enlist in the Missouri National Guard even though he had promised himself never to don another military uniform.
“I missed the military lifestyle,” he said. “And,” he added, “it was also nice to have the extra income.”
He was later promoted to caseworker at (MSP) and, in 1989, married Debra, whom he had met while working at the penitentiary. The couple soon welcomed their only child, Derek. Throughout the next few years, he was employed by the state to include service as an investigator with the Department of Social Services. In 2010, he retired from state employment. In addition to his state employment and National Guard service, he worked several years as a reserve deputy for the Cole County Sheriff’s Department and earned his master’s degree in criminal justice.
Taylor’s career with the Missouri National Guard transitioned to service with the Counterdrug Program for 5 years, fulfilling the role of an intelligence analyst for the MUSTANG Drug Task Force, coordinating intelligence and providing administrative support.While with the Guard, he was assigned Supply, Administrative, Ammunition and Operations Non-Commissioned Officer duties and served as an instructor for the Regional Training Institute. He twice deployed overseas—the first time to Kandahar, Afghanistan, from 2005 to 2006, and to Bosnia and Kosovo from 2008-2009.
“It was interesting that when I was in Afghanistan, the 173rd Airborne, which was the only airborne unit to make a jump in the Vietnam War, had command and control of the base,” he said. “I had the privilege of serving with them long enough to earn my airborne patch 35 years after I had first tried to enlist in the airborne.” Pausing, he added, “I am very proud to wear that patch.”
The veteran retired from the National Guard in November 2010 at the rank of master sergeant and, the following year, moved to Iowa with his family when his wife was transferred there for her job with the Federal Department of Transportation. While in Iowa, Taylor worked for the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services and moved back to Jefferson City in the summer of 2017, when his wife received a transfer back to the area. Their son, Derek, graduated from Iowa State University and lives in Des Moines, where he is pursuing a career in Emergency Medical Services.
A member of the American Legion and the Marine Corps League, Taylor now enjoys working part-time as a tour guide assistant at his former place of employment, the Missouri State Penitentiary. One of the greatest benefits of his retirement, he asserts, is enjoying with his family something previously not available—time.
“I guess that I want to leave a written legacy for my family because it seemed like I was gone for the first 20 years of my marriage because of my commitments to the military,” he said. “You can look back and say I should have done this or that, but personally, it was an experience that gave me the two most precious things in my life—my wife and son.
He added, “They are my life and they sacrificed a lot through my deployments, my law enforcement duties and my career with the state … and now my time is focused on them.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.