The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 19, 2014

Story of W.Va. Navy SEAL’s fatal mission now a movie

'Lone Survivor'

— Four Navy SEALS were sent to Afghanistan in 2005 to get information about the leader of a Taliban militia group commanded by Ahmad Shah. The SEAL team was ambushed by Shah and his group just hours after landing.

Three SEALs were killed and an aid helicopter was sent to give the last SEAL backup support. The helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade, which killed all eight Navy SEALs and all eight U.S. Army Special Operations aviators on board.

One of those men was a young man from Midway, W.Va., named Jeff Taylor. Taylor’s story and the stories of the rest of the men who lived and died that day are

immortalized in the new hit movie “Lone Survivor.”

Taylor’s stepdad got the chance to see the movie recently when Marquee Cinema reserved a screening for Jim Bowman and the rest of his family.

“We would like to really express our appreciation to the theater here in Beckley,” Bowman said. “They did a private showing for me and my family ... basically free of charge. One of my sons was the one who set it up. I would have to say it was the best movie that I have ever seen.

“It was very difficult for us but it made it a lot easier with 35 members of our family there with us. It answered a lot of questions that my wife and I had. We had a lot of animosity against Marcus Luttrell because he lived that day that our son died. After seeing the movie, what he went through was just amazing.”

Bowman said any one of the men who were there that day could have been the one who came home.

“All of them could have died,” he said. “Any one of them could have lived. Jeff could have lived. It gives us a real appreciation for Marcus and what he went through and the way he participated in the movie by seeing that everything was actually what happened. We were just totally impressed.

“I just can’t say enough for the movie theater and how they treated us. It was quite touching. They will never know how much they did for us. Naturally we all cried on one another when it was over. Jeff’s picture is right near the end of the movie. It was quite touching, to say the least.”

Bowman said Taylor was “the ideal man.”

“He went to school at Independence High School,” he said. “He was a wrestler. He was extremely well thought of by everyone in the community. He was very hard-working and a loving husband. He was my stepson, but I don’t like him being referred that way.

“I raised that kid. I loved him with all of my heart and it still kills me to even look at his picture on the wall. Jeff was quite a guy. Special and strong, he was unbelievable.”

Bowman said Jeff would be proud that he got the chance to be a part of something meaningful.

“If he had known that he was going to die when he went in on that mission, he would have still went and tried. That was just the way he was. His life will be memorialized by the movie. There’s also a bridge named after him, down in between Sophia and Hotchkiss. That’s not going to happen with any of the rest of us.  

“I think he would be pleased and I know Jeff would be pleased with the way the movie was done and the way that all of his SEAL brothers were treated with great respect. The movie showed just how hard those people fight. I think that every one of them fought just as hard as Marcus Luttrell fought. He was just fortunate that he’s alive and I’m glad that he is.”

Seeing the movie and what each man did that day stirred a real fire in Bowman, he said.

“I was a patriotic person anyway. It made me even more proud and more dedicated to my country. I don’t believe that you can watch that movie and not want to take up arms and fight for your country. That’s the impression it left me with. Even at my age — I’m 70 years old — after watching that movie, I could have went out and rolled down those mountains myself.

“Everyone should realize that we have some very special people fighting for our freedoms. Every ounce that a person could give, Marcus Luttrell gave it. The things that he went through, he fought to the bitter end. He held dear the freedom that we have. That’s what he was fighting for. He was doing what the commanders of this country asked him to do.”

Bowman said he has a lot of good memories of Jeff Taylor and their time at their hunting camp, but one memory stands out to him.

“I was working as a special investigator for the federal government and doing some criminal investigations,” he said. “I was being harassed. The guy would come to my house and shake the door on my house at times. Late one night I heard a noise and I grabbed my pistol and headed out the door with nothing but my underwear and that pistol on.

“There Jeff was and he came out the door and he was armed with nothing but a camera. He took a picture of me coming across the porch in my underwear with a gun in my hand. He was dying laughing and I was mad at him because he took the picture.

“I said, ‘Boy, what in the world are you doing?’ He said, ‘Dad, we’re going to be in the Guinness Book of World Records.’ I said, ‘How do you figure that?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s the first time that someone has ever stuffed 300 pounds into a 200-pound sack.’”

Bowman still laughs when he tells that story.

“That’s the way he was,” Bowman said. “He was a loving, caring kid that could take care of business when he needed to. As a SEAL he would go out and take care of business. When he came home, he was a loving and caring young man. He was a silent professional.

“He didn’t want anyone to know that he was a Navy SEAL. I wasn’t allowed to mention it, even though I was so proud of him and what he had accomplished. It’s been eight years now that he’s been gone and I still miss him as if it was yesterday. He was special in all respects. That’s for sure.”

The film was written and directed by Peter Berg, and stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana. It is based on the 2007 nonfiction book of the same name by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. Set during the war in Afghanistan, the film dramatizes the failed U.S. Navy SEALs mission Operation Red Wings, in which a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team was tasked to track a Taliban leader.

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com

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