Unknown Soldier

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 the 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 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, it was just part of God’s plan, otherwise 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 wife’s mantle are his favorite three colors, folded into a tight triangle, placed beside the photograph of a smiling soldier who remains forever young. I realize he was unknown to you. But he served you proudly.


  1. John Fraughton - January 18, 2023 6:41 am

    He was my brother. All soldiers are.

  2. Peggy C - January 18, 2023 7:31 am

    Beautifully written. What a wonderful tribute to your friend.

  3. Julia - January 18, 2023 7:34 am

    Thank you Sean.

  4. Debbie g - January 18, 2023 8:01 am

    Amazing tribute to an awesome man. I’m glad you knew him Sean
    Love to all. Please pass it on

  5. Gordon Walden - January 18, 2023 10:59 am

    Well done for a friend and Soldier!

  6. Ginga Smithfield - January 18, 2023 11:10 am

    Thank you, Sean, for sharing your friend with all of us! If you should visit his wife and children again, please tell them that this old lady from Fayetteville, Georgia sends her love and thanks to their husband and father for the sacrifices he endured for me and our country. And, please thank them for sharing their loved one with all of us.

  7. Renee Welton - January 18, 2023 11:30 am


  8. Steve McCaleb - January 18, 2023 11:44 am

    I guess it’s all part of the plan, I really don’t know. I’ve been trying desperately for 72 years to figure it out and I’m no closer now than when I started so many years ago. But the fact that people that I don’t know, have no clue about, serve, protect, fight and die protecting me, my family my country and my way of way humbles me beyond words. And I know that every time we lose one of these great men or women…..our world is a lesser place. And it makes no difference if they die in combat or a car wreck. God bless the people who sacrifice so very much to keep us safe.

  9. Dicki - January 18, 2023 12:05 pm

    A beautiful tribute. As a teacher, I am aware of timid children. I tried to make them feel loved and special. I was timid as a child so I could identify with those feelings.

  10. LBJ - January 18, 2023 12:09 pm

    So very sorry for your loss. God bless your friend, his family, friends and our military.

  11. Cathie - January 18, 2023 12:23 pm

    Beautifully written. I thank him, and all veterans – past, present and future – for their service

  12. Hugh Alford - January 18, 2023 12:39 pm

    May his memory be eternal !

  13. Cindy Neill - January 18, 2023 12:39 pm

    What a beautiful tribute. Sorry for the loss of your friend, but happy that you got too see him blossom into a special person.

  14. Anne Arthur - January 18, 2023 12:50 pm

    He would have loved your tribute. May his beautiful soul rest in God’s peace.

  15. Nancy - January 18, 2023 12:53 pm

    Sean, your words painted a beautiful image of your friend. I usually do quite well while reading your posts, until your last lines. Then, the floodgate opens. I agree with Steve’s well said words and also love our veterans.

  16. Belinda - January 18, 2023 12:59 pm

    OMG…….i was holding my breath as I read…… hoping he lived forever.
    I’m so sorry he did not. Love to the family and friends who recognized his inner strength, beauty and goodness.

  17. John Harrison - January 18, 2023 1:00 pm

    Sorry for your loss. RIP, Major Shinn

  18. Dennis - January 18, 2023 1:09 pm

    Life is random and unfair. Those of us who have escaped this truth, so far, owe it to others to relieve suffering. That is our responsibility. Cool that you have stayed in touch with his widow. I know he appreciates it. And her, too.

  19. Debbie Shelton - January 18, 2023 1:13 pm

    Sean, Thanks for sharing your friend with us. My husband served for 27 years in the USMC and the Air National Guard. He was a crew chief on the C-130H. In the past few days one of the pilots that he flew with was killed in a plane crash locally. Small plane, two passengers, but this has hit hard with the men that served with this pilot in the air and the bonds that were made between them. I don’t remember ever meeting him, but he made an impact on many lives. He leaves behind a family that truly needs all of our prayers.

  20. Linda Lewis - January 18, 2023 1:32 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute. It was so well-written that it brought tears to my eyes and gave me chills. He must have been a beautiful person.

  21. Priscilla Rodgers - January 18, 2023 1:33 pm

    What a great way to honor your friend and one who served our country. Thank you.

  22. Ann T - January 18, 2023 1:40 pm


  23. Jim Duncan - January 18, 2023 1:42 pm

    Wonderful tribute– I feel like I know him after reading your piece

  24. mccutchen52 - January 18, 2023 1:47 pm

    When you get older you will miss your old friends. They are ones that cannot be replaced.

  25. Keloth Anne - January 18, 2023 2:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing memories of a wonderful person ♥️🙏

  26. Pamela Davis - January 18, 2023 2:32 pm

    Thank you for an another amazing post.

  27. AnitaBee - January 18, 2023 2:37 pm

    You’ve written a thoughtful and kind tribute of your friend. I could relate to his shyness, love of eagles, blossoming abilities on the stage. But most of all I found a relationship with him when you mentioned his love of PHISH. Our family attends concerts with our local school of PHISH HEADS, and have found friends from all over the country who come and share their love of music. It’s another family and I hope I saw your friend there.

  28. Ht - January 18, 2023 2:40 pm

    So many…my fishing buddy never returned from Vietnam

  29. AlaRedClayGirl - January 18, 2023 2:46 pm

    God rest his soul.

  30. Susan - January 18, 2023 3:22 pm

    I thank him for his service. ❤️

  31. Kathleen I Smith - January 18, 2023 3:35 pm

    Beautiful tribute to your school bus buddy & friend!

  32. David - January 18, 2023 3:41 pm

    Thank you for your service Mayor Shinn. I’m sure you were one of the good ole boys. Thanks for sharing Sean.

  33. Stacey Wallace - January 18, 2023 3:50 pm

    Sean, thank you for this wonderful story. What a terrific man your friend was. He is my hero, as are all the men and women who serve in our military. As I used to tell my students, people in the military do what I am afraid to do. Also, because of them, I can do what I do. Love to you, Jamie, Marigold, Otis Campbell, and Thelma Lou.

  34. Patricia Gibson - January 18, 2023 4:17 pm

    I am forever grateful to all American soldiers! I think a friend is someone you never lose even if you don’t see each other or you take different paths. You are always connected ❤️❤️

  35. Grammar Queen - January 18, 2023 4:20 pm

    Sean, I brazenly call myself a writer, and I have knocked out some pretty good stuff. But this one left me with these words:
    Oh. My. God.
    What you can do on a keyboard. Thank you. God bless both of you, Sean and Mayor Shinn.

  36. Marie - January 18, 2023 4:34 pm

    A wonderful tribute. You made him real to me, and others. My deepest sympathies to you and those others who knew and loved him. I bet he’d still be trying to make you laugh during one of your performances if he were there! God bless his memory!

  37. Suzanne Mitchell - January 18, 2023 4:36 pm

    🇺🇸 ❤️🇺🇸❤️

  38. sjhl7 - January 18, 2023 5:05 pm

    Beautiful story of a beautiful life … one we would never have had the joy of knowing about if you had not shared it with us. So many lives who are lived quietly yet are things of beauty if we only look close enough to see. You help us to do that, Sean, and I appreciate that more than words can say. Thank you!

  39. virginia westlake - January 18, 2023 5:23 pm

    Oh, wow! What a story!

  40. Kim Scasny - January 18, 2023 6:18 pm

    “Thank you for your service” I said to a retired Marine in a wheelchair. “You were worth it,” he replied.
    What a profound reply…it made me think. Am I really worthy of their sacrifice? Our soldiers, airmen (women), marines, and sailors all think so or they wouldn’t serve. I try everyday to be worthy of their service. As a veteran myself, I use that Marine’s reply when I’m thanked for my service….because I want to believe that my fellow Americans are worthy.
    Thanks for the story.

  41. Becky Souders - January 18, 2023 6:26 pm

    A fine tribute, Sean Dietrich.

  42. Gigi - January 18, 2023 7:00 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to your friend! ❤️ 🚌🇺🇸Thank you for sharing him with us, even though it made me cry.

  43. MAM - January 18, 2023 8:23 pm

    Well, I’m already crying today over the passing of my sister-in-law, but this just added to my tears. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry you lost touch, but you never forgot him, and he never forgot you. Friends are that way, even when distanced in time and experiences. And may God bless all our veterans for their unselfish service to protect you and me!

  44. pattymack43 - January 18, 2023 9:07 pm

    As have so many like him. He is to be remembered with honor and thankfulness. For because of him and all his fellow soldiers we greet each new day as free citizens. M ay God bless his family and his memory.

  45. Gayle Wilson - January 18, 2023 9:24 pm

    Sean, this is another reason that God gifted you as a writer. Your ability to convey an individual that you did not know well, yet you described him with such insight. God bless all veterans. Their life is a life of service and sometimes I think we as Americans take that for granted.

  46. Alice Grimes - January 18, 2023 9:27 pm

    Spot on!

  47. Melissa W Gleneck - January 18, 2023 11:49 pm

    Thank you for your sweet service Mayor Shinn, someday i hope to be blessed to meet you.

  48. Patricia Taylor - January 19, 2023 4:21 am

    What a wonderful and touching tribute to your friend! I thank God for our military and their service to our country…My husband was retired form the Navy and our sons have also served in the Navy. I have great respect for anyone who chooses to serve our great nation! Thank you for sharing your heart concerning his childhood and your friendship…He would have loved it! May God bless his family and give them comfort as only He can. Thank you so much!

  49. Sean of the South: Unknown Soldier | The Trussville Tribune - January 19, 2023 2:11 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

  50. Ruth - January 19, 2023 3:54 pm

    What a blessing to his family for you to honor him. Well done 🙏

  51. Alice Roose - January 19, 2023 8:30 pm

    A wonderful tribute to your friend with a sad ending thank you Sean for another beautiful story God Bless you


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