Andrew Dys

Soldiers' sacrifices should never be forgotten

I went to the Rock Hill armory to try and find out when the Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineer soldiers will get home from Afghanistan.

I got no answers. The Army loves silence.

But I got an earful of something I needed to hear. A tough guy named Sgt. Eddie Stewart yelled out to me on the sidewalk.

"Don't forget Sergeant Hill!" Stewart said. Stewart is 45 years old, a former truck driver, thick and stout. He looks like he could whip Iraq or Afghanistan all by himself. But he couldn't. He needed help from Shawn Hill.

Around South Carolina, close to 1,800 families wait for their National Guard soldiers to come home from Afghanistan in the next few weeks. Shawn Hill's family does not wait. Sgt. Shawn Hill was buried near his Spartanburg County home in January.

Stewart was one of the pallbearers for the casket.

"An honor," said Stewart, a guy who knows what honor is.

The 178th Combat Engineers are based in Rock Hill with armories in Fort Mill, Wellford and Timmonsville. The 178th men and women have been deployed in different duties and bunches since just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Hill is the only one to die in combat.

Hill and Stewart were in Iraq together for a year in 2004. There were nine guys in the same squad working convoy security. These nine guys did everything together. Ate, slept, fought, shot the enemy.

"Across the country, up and down the country," Stewart said. "We saw it all. I cannot tell you, when you have to be together all the time, all day, every day, how close we became. Shawn Hill was loved, man, and not just by me. You learn to count on people, lean on them. Shawn Hill was my brother."

Those nine men were security -- three Humvees for about 40 trucks -- on the last convoy in Iraq the group had before coming home. Stewart was in the fourth-to-last vehicle. It passed a tire, a wheel, on the side of the road. Stewart, a gunner with one of those big swivel machine guns that would scream "Kill!" if it could talk, spun the gun as his Humvee passed the tire.

Then, the tire blew up.

Shrapnel everywhere. A single piece pierced a soldier's chest, went clean through. A soldier named Dillard, along with Stewart, Hill and the others in this band of nine, tried to save him but could not.

The soldier was a Kuwaiti. He died in the dust. But Shawn Hill and others tried to save him.

Then, Sgt. Shawn Hill, with the wife and three sons at home, volunteered to fill a slot with the next group of almost 2,000 heading to Afghanistan last April.

Another roadside bomb, in another country, in another war, killed him.

The only reason Stewart, with a wife and two sons, didn't go to Afghanistan with Shawn Hill is because Stewart, after volunteering, was hurt in training getting ready to go.

Stewart volunteered for Iraq, too. He was a guardsman for six years, got out for 13 years, then joined again after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I joined up again because I felt I had to do my part," Stewart said. "And I know Shawn Hill volunteered for Afghanistan for the same reasons."

Every guy from the Fort Mill armory who served with Stewart and Hill in Iraq in 2004 -- a group that went after many others in the Fort Mill unit had been sent to Iraq in 2003 -- volunteered to go to Afghanistan.

You are right, Sgt. Eddie Stewart. We should not forget Shawn Hill. Or any of you.