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By Nicholas Grube
Shortly before Bruno de Solenni left for his third and final tour of duty in the Middle East, his long-time friend and colleague Todd Nickel tried to convince him not to go.
"For some reason, somehow, I had a bad feeling," Nickel said. "I was afraid. I just thought three times was too much."
Nickel's attempt failed, and now he says he's "walking around thinking this is a bad dream" ever since hearing the news that de Solenni was killed in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device.
"He was one of the best people I'd ever known," Nickel said. "In my life he's the best friend I ever had. I could always count on him."
Nickel, 46, is de Solenni's elder by 14 years. The two became friends after de Solenni graduated from Del Norte High in 1994 and tried to become a timber faller for Nickel, who owns Northwest Chopping.
"He just wanted to go cut trees," Nickel remembered.
Nickel didn't hire de Solenni right away. Instead, he allowed the young graduate to hound him until one day he finally conceded.
"After a while I just brought him with me because he was a nuisance," Nickel said. "That was the best decision I ever made because that's the best friend I've ever had, too."
Nickel and de Solenni did a lot of talking as they traveled to Humboldt County to cut trees for Green Diamond Resource Company.
"It was just a long ride to work," Nickel said. "That's how we became such close friends. He was like family after awhile."
Even when de Solenni enrolled at Southern Oregon University in Ashland and joined the Oregon National Guard he still came back to help Nickel, eventually becoming something of a partner in Nickel's operation.
"He was just a young man," Nickel said. "He was anxious. He wanted to be something, but just didn't know what. That's why he did so many things."
When not cutting down trees or fulfilling his obligations to the National Guard, de Solenni also worked with Nickel as a crab fishermen. After a few times out, Nickel said de Solenni didn't want to be a deck hand, rather he wanted to run his own fishing boat.
de Solenni eventually bought his own vessel, the Sea Belle, which today is dry-docked at the Crescent City Harbor.
"He didn't want to see what it was like on the back of the boat," Nickel said. "He wanted to see what it's like (as a captain) and I think that's why he joined the Army and wanted to go see what it was like over there."
Nickel still doesn't understand why his friend decided to go into the service, and he still doesn't understand why de Solenni didn't listen to him when he asked him not to go back to Afghanistan.
"There was no talking him out of it," Nickel said. "In his mind he thought he was doing right or he wouldn't of done it."