Submitted After Pullen set up a memorial to Newcomb in his store, a customer with ties to the veteran's family in Louisiana was able to locate Newcomb's brother and put the two in touch.


After Pullen set up a memorial to Newcomb in his store, a customer with ties to the veteran's family in Louisiana was able to locate Newcomb's brother and put the two in touch.

As the owner of S&J Variety Store, Shawn Pullen is no stranger to finding unexpected items in unlikely places.

However, he would never have predicted what he found inside a storage unit from Smyrna on an otherwise routine trip.

"There were somebody's ashes in (this box)," Pullen said. "It said it came from a crematorium in Louisiana. There was a flag in there, and I wasn't sure if it was his or not, but I made a memorial in the store and put the flag and ashes with it."

Those ashes are the remains of U.S. Navy veteran Ryan Newcomb, who died in 2017 and served from approximately 1992-94, when he was honorably discharged following a brain injury that was sustained in a serious fall.

Pullen decided to set up the memorial as a sign of respect for the serviceman, which ultimately led to some of his customers helping to send the items home to Denver, Colorado.

"(Ryan) was a highly energetic, very charismatic person who always found a way to look on the bright side and laugh, even though life wasn't always kind to him," Newcomb's brother Chris, who received the memorial on Aug. 26, said. "He was smart and funny, but also a smart aleck ... he wasn't afraid to do extra physical work when his mouth got him in trouble in the service."

Chris Newcomb remembers his brother's spirit and sense of humor always shining through no matter the situation. Through Pullen's decision to pay tribute, his impact continued to be felt.

"The memorial was probably in the store for about three months," Pullen said. "To me, it was disrespectful that he was sitting in a storage unit, and I wasn't just going to put him in the closet, so I brought a table down and had it set up."

During that time, several of S&J Variety Store's customers were able to hear a small piece of Ryan Newcomb's story, but it was Steve Uher who took it upon himself to find a family member.

"My wife Stacey has kinfolk down in Louisiana, and I asked her if she knew anyone related to (Newcomb)," Uher said. "She contacted the funeral home, and they contacted me. His brother said the storage unit belonged to his (widow). We wanted him to go to an immediate family member."

Uher knew the funeral home would be a safe bet for getting in touch, noting that they typically keep records of family members and belongings.

"I (first) received a call from the Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home in Louisiana, the one they used for the cremation," Chris Newcomb said. "They put me in touch with Steve ... (who) saw the items and informed Shawn he wanted to help, because he's also a veteran."

Uher was also driven to help out by thoughts of his own family, and at one point even, he offered to take the memorial from Pullen's shop to focus on finding a home for it.

"If that was my son, I'd want him back home," Uher said. "I'd want that for anybody. His brother was so glad to get him back."

That first call was a shock to the system for Chris Newcomb, who had no idea the ashes were tucked away in storage.

"My initial reaction was anger," Chris Newcomb said. "I thought they were with his widow. It was disgraceful. I don't think somebody's remains should ever be in a storage unit."

Still, Pullen and Uher's efforts to reach out were welcomed, and the Macon County residents made a strong impression.

"I'm very grateful (Shawn) found those items and took care of them," Chris Newcomb said. "That felt really nice. It was something special and seemed like what my brother would do for someone else."

Pullen handled the arrangements to have Ryan Newcomb's ashes sent to Colorado and is thankful he was able to play a part in their journey back home.

"Every day when I walked in, I would tell Ryan hi," Pullen said. "(It's) got to be a one-in-a-million situation. I've found some weird stuff in storage units, but I could buy another 20 in my life and never see something like that again."

For Chris Newcomb, his brother's return was a chance to revisit their lives together and find some closure after learning where the ashes had been.

"It brings me peace of mind and ease, because he's now with people who loved him the same way he loved us," Chris Newcomb said. "To be able to take those ashes and spread them in all the places we used to go is amazing, because now we know every time we visit, he's there with us."