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The email from Afghanistan was remarkable.
Capt. Bruno de Solenni had spent a significant chunk of his day writing a 1,692-word missive to us about how a Crescent City man ended up in that faraway land, what he was doing there, and most poignantly, what he believed in.
Attached were three searing images: a nighttime scene of Afghan teenagers whom de Solenni and his comrades were training to fight the Taliban, a group shot of de Solenni and his American and British brothers in arms, and a smiling but weary de Solenni trudging across the sand at the end of a patrol.
He was responding to a Sept. 6 front-page spread in The Triplicate that included a feature ("Home for Christmas?") in which his family expressed fears for his safety that would prove all-too-justified. It also included a reprinting of an article from The (Portland) Oregonian in which de Solenni and two of his Oregon National Guard comrades described a recent firefight and told of "almost-daily, close-quarter combat with Taliban soldiers. In addition, they endure nights of indirect fire, when Taliban soldiers fire rockets, mortars and grenades into their small forward operating base."
De Solenni's email expanded on all that, with graphic details and his own straightforward assessment of how media coverage and politics colored Americans' view of the war. On Sept. 13, we reprinted large portions of it along with the three photos in a follow-up feature, "Letter from Afghanistan." The full version can now be found at triplicate.com.
I was in my office Sunday afternoon when Publisher Michele Thomas called with the news that was starting to sweep across Crescent City. She'd heard it at the grocery store: Capt. Bruno de Solenni had been killed in action.
That was unofficial, of course, and we needed confirmation to post the news online. My next task was one I'd assigned to reporters dozens of times when I supervised military coverage at The Gazette in Colorado Springs, home to a massive Army post that has endured many losses in this war. Because the Department of Defense delays such announcements for 24 hours after family notification, I had to reach out to someone in the family.
Mario de Solenni was gracious when he answered the telephone at his home. He'd been dealing with the death of his son since Saturday, and he wanted the community to know.
As my wife and I walked down to Pebble Beach that evening, I couldn't help but wonder how often de Solenni had stopped to watch the sunset on his hometown coastline. The orange orb seemed to be doing double-time in its descent, full of fiery energy but departing rapidly. We hurried to a point clear of sea stacks.
Like a distant mountain range, a low layer of clouds hid the sun's final plunge. The top of those clouds lit up in vibrant red as if fire burned across the ridge line. It should have been a sight too spectacular to last for long, and yet it lingered as we stood transfixed. Five minutes passed, maybe 10 before the jagged beaming bar broke into smaller sections like incandescent embers.
I'd never seen a sunset quite like it.
It burned right through the question of how the people he left behind feel about the war. It illuminated what matters now: that we know and honor the fact Bruno de Solenni went to war, repeatedly, because he believed in his heart that he was protecting the rest of us.