Soldier's aunt pledges to carry out his funeral wishes

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by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on August 28, 2011 at 2:43 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 29 at 4:28 PM

TARRANT COUNTY — Families in Tarrant and Johnson counties are grieving a fallen soldier.

Pfc. Jesse Dietrich, 20, was killed in Afghanistan along with a 24-year old sergeant on Thursday. Soldiers brought the news home to Texas on Friday morning.

Since then, Auneta Southern has been sorting pictures, reflecting on the life of the nephew she raised as her own son.

"There is a story for every picture," she said.

And they were good stories, too — of Jesse Dietrich climbing trees and catching fish in rural Tarrant County.

Southern doesn't yet know the details of his final story, only that Pfc. Dietrich was killed while on patrol in Kandahar Province.

"He told me not to worry," she said. "That where he was; there was nothing happening."

He was only 20 years old.

"He wanted a lawn chair and raviolis... in a can," Southern recalled with a laugh.

She now believes Dietrich just wanted her to think all was quiet in Afghanistan. Now she thinks of the kid in the kitchen who pulled his drowning sister from the bottom of a pool; the young man who joined the Army two years ago to give his baby boy a secure future.

"'I have to believe that what I'm doing is making a difference,'" Southern quoted him as telling her.

Pfc. Dietrich's father, also a soldier, got the news from his post in Iraq. But Jesse gave his funeral wishes to his Aunt Auneta. She said he wanted his headstone to read: "Life is a game, but sometimes you got to lose."

"I will follow his wishes... but that's real hard," she said, "because it's so much more serious than a game."

Southern has American flags to take to Delaware to meet her nephew's body.

There is a story for every one of Southern's photographs. And now, every one of them has a sad ending.

 E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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