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Gold Star Mother honors late Marine son by sharing his story


Gold Star Mother Kelly Barnett of Mtn. View lost her son Marine Ssgt. Darin Taylor Hoover, 31, during a suicide bombing on Aug. 21, 2021, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Hoover went by his middle name, Taylor, and was one of 13 servicemen assisting in evacuations out of Afghanistan at a civilian airport during the military's withdrawal from that country, vetting the paperwork of travelers before sending them on to another U.S. State Department checkpoint before they were to board a plane.

The Gold Star designation honors the family of a service member who has died in military service; many such family members wear a Gold Star pin on their lapel to remember and honor their lost loved one. Appearing first during World War 1, the legacy pin is recognizable as a gold star on a purple background, surrounded by a gold wreath.

Barnett had her Jeep Sahara decorated with a wrap to honor and remember him and the other servicemen killed that day, which she sometimes drives in parades, including the most recent Veterans Day Parade in West Plains.

She remembers the day her son died. After seeing news reports of a suicide bomber and knowing he was assisting in the evacuation of civilians at a Kabul airport during the U.S. military's withdrawal from Afghanistan, she and other family members held out hope that Ssgt. Hoover wasn't a victim of the attack.

The bombing happened at about 9 a.m. CDT at Hamid Karzai International Airport during the last days of the evacuation of the city, which had fallen to Taliban troops when U.S. troops and other forces withdrew from Afghanistan. Barnett describes it as about two weeks of chaos.

Even though calls and texts to Hoover went unanswered that day, she calculated the odds and reassured herself that as one in a group of about 6,500 people, her only son was safe. She told herself that "no news was good news," tried not to worry and went on about her day. She and Taylor's sisters and their husbands had moved to the area from West Memphis the month before and were still settling in to their new homes.

At about 10:30 that evening, while taking laundry down to the basement, she heard the doorbell ring. She saw three uniformed Marines through the door's window, and dropped to the floor.

"It was just an out-of-body experience; you can hear the words but can't believe it," she recalls. "I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

Taylor and 12 other soldiers had perished attempting to assist desperate refugees fleeing as enemies of the Taliban forces rushing in to take over as foreign troops left. About 175 civilians died just steps away from boarding planes intended to fly them to safety.

Barnett says Taylor had been in Kabul for about a week when the attack happened, sent there from a fact-finding assignment in Saudi Arabia.

"His mission was always to get as many people out as possible. He wanted them to have a better life, especially the women and children," she says. The withdrawal happened over a couple of weeks she describes as frenzied and disorganized, but his focus remained on his mission, sometimes moment to moment.

"His question was always 'How many people can we get out in an hour?'" she recalls. Deployed out of Camp Pendleton in California, Taylor was expected to return stateside in September, mere days after the attack. He had been a Marine for 11 years, and after five deployments, three in Afghanistan and two in the South Pacific and Australia aboard Navy ships, had just reenlisted.

He left behind a fiancee, and is laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. On Saturday, Barnett traveled there to lay a wreath on his grave as a part of Wreaths Across America, a nationwide mission to place an evergreen wreath at the final resting place of every veteran in remembrance and appreciation of their service and sacrifice.

In 2008, Hoover graduated high school and went into the Marines' Military Entrance Processing Station program for screening before enlistment, and joined in December 2010. It was a lifetime goal for him.

"He had talked about the Marines since he was a kid; it was never the Army, he always played with the Marines toys," Barnett says, recalling Hoover's childhood. Grandparents on both sides of Hoover's family had been in the military, and his father had been a police officer. Their influence and that of other family members in public safety and emergency services was always present, Barnett says.

She holds the mother and son bond she had with him close to her heart, remembering the good-natured teasing he got from his sisters as mom's "favorite," admitting he relished that role.

She wants everyone to know how good a person he was, of his love for his family and fiancee Nicole Weiss and his dedication to the men in his unit as a true leader who loved to train and worked to bring out the best in his fellow soldiers, and his personal mission to guard those civilians. Her mission now is to make sure he's remembered, and those opportunities continue to present themselves.

She now knows six boys, friends and family, that have Taylor as their middle names in his memory.

Hoover's sisters, Tori Manning and Allyson Summers, found out they were pregnant a couple of months after his passing, and she considers grandchildren Waylon and Freya, both 6 months old now, as blessings from Taylor. Hoover's niece Raelynn, 4, had a close relationship with her uncle, and the family has fond memories of them together. Niece Isabella, 2, got to meet her uncle but was just a few weeks old.

In keeping with the family tradition of working in helping professions, Tori is an emergency room nurse at Mercy St. Francis Hospital in Mtn. View and her husband, Cpl. Thomas Manning, is a West Plains police officer. Allyson's husband Dylan is an engineer with the West Plains Fire Department.

Barnett keeps in touch with the families of the other service members lost that day, and is part of a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) grief support group, members of which check in with each other regularly. She describes being a Gold Star family member as an honor, but emphasizes it is "definitely not a club you want to be a member of."