Sgt. Shawn F. Hill loved his wife and three sons and joined the Army National Guard to help provide for them as he studied at Spartanburg Community College for an electrical engineering degree.
He recently was home with his family for Thanksgiving on a 15-day leave, before returning to Afghanistan to complete his second tour overseas.
Hill, 37, of Wellford, died Wednesday in Khowst Province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered a bomb, the Department of Defense said. He was assigned to the 178th Engineer Battalion, 218th Infantry Brigade, based in Rock Hill.
Julie, Hill's high school sweetheart and wife of 16 years, gathered with family and friends at home to mourn.
"He was a good father, soldier and husband, and he died doing what he loved to do, and there's not a person who ever met him that didn't love him," Julie Hill said.
Lillie Rice, his mother's cousin whom Hill called "Aunt Lillie," said Hill fried two turkeys, one for her and one for her sister, when he was home for Thanksgiving.
Rice, 67, picked up the turkey from him, hugged him, told him she loved him and to take care. Hill looked great, she said.
"I was so glad to see him," Rice said.
"He was a very nice person, family man, worked hard, provided for his family. ... He's gonna be missed."
Hill, a self-employed electrician who completed a yearlong tour in Iraq, began his latest tour in spring 2007, family members said. He served 12 years in the military.
He graduated in 1990 from J.F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, where he was a defensive lineman on the football team and also wrestled and ran track.
Funeral arrangements have not been set.
Susie Salters, a neighbor who has known Hill since he was a baby, remembers him as a calm, focused man whom she often saw playing outside with his sons, ages 15, 13 and 11.
"He seemed like he was gonna go through and make it, but it didn't happen that way," Salters said.
His passion was to serve his country, she added.
"I still can't believe it. I think somebody still needs to wake me."