The Unknown Soldier

We lost touch a long, long time ago. He probably wouldn’t have been able to pick the adult-me out of a crowd.

He was unknown to you. But not to me. We were friends. Sort of.

Ours wasn’t a long lasting friendship, but we rode the school bus together. So I guess that made us friends.

He would save a seat for me; I would board the bus, walk the aisle, and plop on the cushion beside him.

He was funny. We laughed a lot. Some kids are just born to be funny.

He kept a journal of sketches. They were good. He could draw anything. And I remember when he trusted me enough to let me look through his journal. Inside were dozens of bald eagles.

“Why do you draw so many eagles?” I asked.

“‘Cause they’re cool, why else?”

He didn’t have many friends because he was shy, and shy people are like that. I was the same way.

Between the two of us we were so timid we squeaked. And if ever we saw each other outside the confines of the bus, we were even shy around each other.

When he got a part in the school play, nobody was sure how it would go. The kid was so quiet he wouldn’t even raise a hand in class.

He was afraid to play football, he didn’t like baseball. He liked to read and draw instead.

Yet here he was playing Mayor Shinn in the Music Man.

I was in the musical, too. In fact, I played one of the guys in the barbershop quartet. Our quartet sang a song named “Sincere.”

I still remember the lyrics:

“How can there be any sin in sincere?
“Where is the good in goodbye?
“Your apprehensions confuse me dear,
“Puzzle and mystify…”

There are some things you don’t forget.

I was the bass singer for the group. Not because I actually sang bass, but because I was chubby. Chubby children were expected to sing bass come hell or high water.

He had a speaking part. And when he took the stage, he brought the house down as Mayor Shinn. Mayor Shinn had all the funny lines.

I was proud of him on that stage, wearing his lambchop sideburns and three-piece suit. I don’t know why I was proud, but I was.

We lost touch a long time ago. He probably wouldn’t have been able to pick the adult-me out of a crowd. I’m certain I would have never recognized him.

He joined the military. And when he finished his years of service, he considered going to art school, but never did.

He designed a few posters for local bands, illustrated ads for businesses, but that was it.

It was welding that interested him. He found that he could make good money welding. He found it to be satisfying work. Welding is an art. I know this because I am the son of a lifetime union welder.

But I understand the military helped him get over his shyness. As an adult, he was main attraction at any party. Good with a joke. Entertaining. Call it his inner Mayor Shinn coming out.

He was half Mexican, half Irish, all American. Determined, but easygoing. Fair. Honest. Liked soccer. Golf. And books.

He was a music freak. He loved the the band Phish. And they say in his free time, he would sketch pictures of his children, and portraits of his wife.

We had gone our own ways in life. We had different interests, different worlds. I’ve never been overseas; he toured the entire earth.

But I still remember the kid in the musical. And I still smile when I remember how he would stand backstage, stick his tongue out, and see if he could make me laugh during my song “Sincere.”

Years ago, an SUV hit his truck, head on. It was nobody’s fault. He was on his way home from work. It was dark.

“These things just happen,” his wife told me. “You just have to look at it like that, or it’ll mess with your mind.”

She tells me he was a funny, happy man. He had the smile of a good ole boy, and the laugh of a kid.

On the right side of his chest, he had a tattoo. One he had designed himself. He had another on his shoulder. A bald eagle.

Today, upon his mantle are his favorite three colors, folded into a tight triangle, placed beside the photograph of a smiling soldier who remains forever young.

This holiday belongs to him and his millions of brothers.

I only hope they have musicals in Heaven. Because God is going to love the guy who plays Mayor Shinn.

I know I sure did.

Happy Memorial Day.

28 comments

  1. Sandi in FL. - May 27, 2019 8:09 am

    Sean, you didn’t say your shy classmate’s name, but he represents every courageous U.S. soldier being honored today, Memorial Day 2019. May he rest in peace. I’m 100% certain he would smile at the many nice things you remember about him and his good life. Thank you for sharing your fond memories of him with us readers.

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  2. Carol Heidbreder - May 27, 2019 10:35 am

    Sean…thank you. Many parallels here ..again! Including a young father that was a welder and dead at 33. And oh my goodness he did love his little girl. He had no material things to leave her, but she is an old lady now and she still feels his love. This was precious Sean! Just the right message today! Many thanks! You’re the best! God bless them all!

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  3. Maria - May 27, 2019 10:42 am

    Beautiful story- thank you Sean.

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  4. Nell Thomas - May 27, 2019 11:27 am

    Happy Memorial Day to you and your family.
    Thanks for the story.

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  5. Dan Wise - May 27, 2019 11:53 am

    When WWII was in the early stages, my father James Wise, was in basic training in Grand Lakes Michigan naval station. He was transferred to New Orleans in anticipation of embarking to the big theater. Prior to assignment, Naval operations realized his Master welder expertise would be more valuable leading welding teams producing the Higgins landing crafts. He served in our Greatest Generation…where he was most needed.

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  6. Connie Havard Ryland - May 27, 2019 12:13 pm

    I’m proud to be daughter, aunt, niece, sister, cousin to many who have served. Some have gone on before me; some I will honor on Veterans Day. Today I remember the ones I’ve lost, not with sorrow but with smiles and thankfulness and a full heart. Another beautiful column today Sean. God bless. Love and hugs.

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  7. Melanie - May 27, 2019 12:17 pm

    countless men and women gave their heart, soul and life for us ❤️😔🙏🏻 they experienced horrors and fears, loneliness and sadness we can not begin to imagine. remember them with reverence, respect and boundless gratitude ❤️🇺🇸 thank you Sean.

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  8. Karen - May 27, 2019 12:19 pm

    Perfect.

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  9. Judy Cobern - May 27, 2019 12:23 pm

    One of your best, Sean….Especially on this day

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  10. Phillip Saunders. - May 27, 2019 12:33 pm

    Thanks, Sean, and happy Memorial Day to you, Jamie, and all your readers. Never forget.

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  11. Cathi Russell - May 27, 2019 1:12 pm

    Thanks Sean. I wish you & yours a blessed Memorial day too! ❤❤❤

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  12. Shelton A. - May 27, 2019 1:33 pm

    I’m sorry for the family that lost that good man. We have a shortage of good men-just look at Washington and you’ll have to agree (there are even a few bad women in Washington-I hope they stay there). My dad rebuilt engines in Pearl Harbor for the US Navy. When he came home he built the gyroscopic direction-finders for Nike-Zeus missiles (couldn’t talk about what he did until they were all computerized. Each missile had 3 to ensure decent accuracy. When he was home he read Scientific American (which even after physics and calculus, I couldn’t understand) and National Geographic (he would have loved the TV channel). He was a good man who rarely stood out in a crowd but he did important work and never bragged about it.

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  13. Shelton A. - May 27, 2019 1:35 pm

    p.s.-Happy Memorial Day, Dad and to all the vets and those who serve our country-this is your day!

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  14. Edna B. - May 27, 2019 1:48 pm

    Today we honor all those who died serving in the military. Your story is perfect for today. God Bless that wonderful young man and the family he left behind. Sean, you and Jamie have a wonderful Memorial Day, hugs, Edna B.

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  15. Joe Patterson - May 27, 2019 1:57 pm

    Thanks again I lost three of my friends from grade school in Vietnam I will never forget them .They will always be my heroes.

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  16. Bobbie - May 27, 2019 2:21 pm

    Thank you for sharing. God has a special place in Heaven for him I’m sure. I can see him now joyfully singing with the saints! Let us never forget the sacrifices made so that we can have our freedoms …may those who were too young or not yet born, be told the stories of those who gave of themselves for our great country….lest we forget. God bless you and God bless them all. 🇺🇸🇺🇸‼️

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  17. Jeanne Butler - May 27, 2019 2:26 pm

    Happy Memorial Day Sean. A beautiful happy/sad story. Love you🇺🇸

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  18. Kelly Ray - May 27, 2019 2:29 pm

    Well thanks for bringing a tear to my eyes today Sean…As per normal…God Bless You…God Bless my other military brothers families who gave all or who have moved on…Like my own brother Julius USMC 1966-1969. Served at Da Nang… I will not forget y’all…
    MM1/SS Kelly Joe Ray USN Retired.

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  19. MermaidGrammy - May 27, 2019 2:43 pm

    God has bestowed so many gifts on you – perhaps the greatest is you are the best friend I’ve ever known

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  20. Robert Chiles - May 27, 2019 2:49 pm

    So we’ll written. Perfect.

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  21. Jack Darnell - May 27, 2019 3:18 pm

    Good one my friend, THANKS, God bless the memories of all the unknowns.
    Sherry & jack in NC

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  22. Sue - May 27, 2019 3:42 pm

    Thank you. Very touching on my heart today💕

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  23. Linda Moon - May 27, 2019 4:13 pm

    Who could not love a Mayor Shinn, embodied in your friend. And,may you stay Forever Young, Sean.

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  24. Mary Ellen Hall - May 27, 2019 8:48 pm

    BEAUTIFUL SEAN!! HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!!🇺🇸🇺🇸

    Mary Ellen Hall

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  25. Mary Anderson - May 28, 2019 1:08 am

    Beautiful. ❤️

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  26. Debbie Britt - May 28, 2019 1:35 am

    Beautiful tribute!❤️

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  27. jstephenw - May 28, 2019 3:09 am

    Thank you Sean. Once again, you find a way to connect, especially on Memorial Day. He was fortunate to have you as his friend, as many of us who read you daily feel the same way. I shared your daily blog with one one my lawyer friends who is my age, but the opposite side of the aisle. I represent people injured by medical professionals, he defends them. I called him last Friday to discuss a case at 10:00 am. He said, “glad you called, I just finished my daily devotional reading Sean. Thanks for sending him to me.” Made my day.

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  28. Chasity Davis Ritter - May 28, 2019 4:31 pm

    Don’t know what I waited until today to read this. Maybe because I cried enough yesterday but here I am crying again today for this “unknown soldier” may God bless and watch over his wife and children as he is in the Lord’s Army now.

    Reply

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