PIKE TOWNSHIP - "Welcome Home, Mike!"

The cake seemed to shout out its message in red letters, with red and blue icing rippling around the edge. Bright sugary balloons "floated" beside the words.

Rome VFW Post 6824 celebrated Wednesday night, as it honored Master Sgt. Mike Taylor of LeRaysville on his retirement after 20 years in the Air Force.

"I'm honored that they thought enough to welcome me home," Taylor said before the celebration.

The casual party included food, presentation of two certificates and a flag, and lots of time to chat and congratulate the retiree.

Taylor, the son of Tom and Peggy Taylor of Warren Center, graduated from Northeast Bradford in 1989. He got his airplane mechanic's license from Riverside School of Aeronautics and worked a year and a half at Miller Aviation in Binghamton, N.Y. But "I needed experience," he explained, "so I decided to join the Air Force."

He thought he'd serve four years and go home. But later he found himself married and settled in a home with a baby on the way. Things were comfortable ... not the time for a big change. He stayed in.

"Four years turned into 20," he commented.

During his career, Taylor was stationed at San Antonio, Texas, for basics; Pope Air Force Base, N.C., for six years as a mechanic; at Hornell, N.Y., four years as a recruiter; at Dover Air Force Base about five years; and in King of Prussia, Pa., from October 2008 until now, as a health professions recruiter. At Dover, he served as a hydraulics specialist then an instructor, then worked in curriculum development, training and scheduling.

A couple times he could have been sent to desert areas but other duties prevented it.

Taylor was recruiting in Hornell during the Sept. 11 terror attacks. "There was a lot more interest" in the Air Force after that day, he said, with more people looking at its Web site. Taylor said some who were planning to join changed their minds - and some who were not planning on it decided to enlist. In the end, he saw recruitment numbers stay steady.

"I didn't lose anybody, personally."

His retirement will be official in December, and right now he's using up vacation time.

Taylor had a retirement ceremony Aug. 3.

A few years ago, he bought the LeRaysville Victorian home he grew up in. His family's been living there the last 2 1/2 years, and he traveled up from King of Prussia on weekends.

"I've kind of been home for a couple years now," he said.

Taylor and his wife, Alison, have two sons, Tyler, 16, and Hunter, 11, and a daughter, Riley, 10.

The thing he liked most about the Air Force, he said, was "probably the people and the relationships." An Air Force friend's a friend forever.

For example, he stayed at a service friend's house in King of Prussia 2 ½ years. Then when the friend left, a second buddy let Taylor live there during the week.

"That kind of ... friendship is that people are always willing to step up and help each other out," he said.

"Friends in the Air Force are family ... that's what I'll miss the most."

Today, Taylor's starting a new career, selling life insurance for Liberty National.

"I've got a big hunk of Pennsylvania to cover," he noted. His new job holds growth potential, too.

Recruiting "was basically sales," he said. "Sales is sales."

Although he was ready for a career change, he's glad he served in the Air Force.

"I certainly would do it again."

During his August ceremony, Taylor received certificates from the state House of Representatives, through Rep. Tina Pickett's office, and the VFW post's ladies auxiliary. Wednesday night, he also received a certificate of recognition and letter from U.S. Rep. Tom Marino and a U.S. flag from Pickett's office.