Brave Soldier: The Bruno de Solenni Story- Introduction

“War is the province of danger, and therefore courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior.”

– General Karl Von Clausewitz

This is the introduction of my new book about my friend Bruno de Solenni. He died in Afghanistan in 2008.

Brave Soldier: The Bruno de Solenni Story

By Dominic Oto

Dedication

To

Captain Bruno G. de Solenni

Killed in Action near Maiwand District, Kandahar Afghanistan

September 20, 2008

And

Hanif and Ramin, our two intrepid interrupters, with us since the beginning.

Killed in Action near Maiwand District, Kandahar Afghanistan

September 20, 2008

If there is any glory in war, let it rest with brave men like these.

Foreword

On September 20, 2008, Captain Bruno de Solenni, a brave American soldier who was loved and admired, and with everything to live for was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

How did this happen?

Why?

I was a close friend of Bruno’s. We spent almost a year together in training at Fort Riley, Kansas and in Afghanistan. I was talking to him right up until the moment he died. In that time I got to know about his life: his adventures, his dreams for the future, the triumphs and defeats of the generous, intense, fun-loving man who was Bruno de Solenni.

We were in the same gun truck when we hit a 500-pound roadside bomb. I was driving, and Bruno was the gunner. Bruno and two other brave men died that day. I lived, and he died. I can’t tell you why he died and I lived. No one can.

We were unlikely friends. We were two very different men. Bruno was physical and brave. I am bookish and afraid. We came from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds, different religious beliefs, and different political opinions-and yet we put all those differences aside and became buddies. But I can tell you about his life, but I must also tell you of his death and the events which preceded it. I have thought long, and hard about that- whether to go into it all or to keep parts of it suppressed, the feelings of anger, regret and sorrow over Bruno’s death have been bottled-up for almost a decade. In the end, I was guided by what Bruno told me when I wondered about whether I should be frank and open as he was about our mission to train an infantry battalion of Afghan soldiers. Bruno pointed to a quote in his notebook from Ernest Hemingway, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” I love that quote. I have been reading and re-reading Hemingway ever since.

Bruno was always open and blunt, and for him, there was only one way to account for things- to tell the whole truth about them, holding nothing back. I know he would want me to tell his story the same way. I attempt to tell the reader Bruno’s story truly, the way it happened. There are ecstasy and sorrow, fear and bravery, and with some luck, the reader will get to know about the brave soldier, his friends called, “the heart and soul of our team.”

This is the story of how Bruno and I came to know each other and help each other. We were both soldiers fighting in a foreign land far from home who became friends and developed an enduring friendship until tragedy struck.

This is what I tried to do in telling Bruno’s story, holding nothing back. This is as close as I could get to the “Why” Bruno died in Afghanistan on September 30, 2008.

The cover of Bruno’s book

Bruno de Solenni died at the age of thirty-two. He left behind a loving family and a great many loving friends. And with this book, I hope that when they think of him, it’s not how he died that they remember, but, rather, how this brave man lived. Bruno is deeply missed and never forgotten.

 

The Life and Legend of Bruno de Solenni– A Brave Soldier

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

Matthew 5:9 KJB

Introduction

I am almost finished writing a book about my friend Bruno. Trying to remember and capture Bruno is why I started writing.

Bruno was a fearless warrior, a loving brother, and uncle. Bruno led the life of an American hero. His renowned compassion and courage made him a legend to anyone that knew him.

I wanted to write a candid, essential portrait of this celebrated warrior – a man whose death only added to the legend of Bruno. But first I had to set the scene. I hope you like it.

SAINT JOSEPH CATHOLIC CEMETERY, CRESCENT CITY, CALIFORNIA- January 1, 2013-

I park my truck at the bottom of the small hill of the cemetery.  I slowly walk up the hill to the gnarled old tree that is beside the grave. I am stopped as soon as I see his tombstone.

I feel like I have hit an invisible brick wall. My breathing quickens, I feel like someone punched the air out of my lungs, my legs grow weak, and I fall to my knees in front of his grave. I began to shake, and my throat constricts. My eyes are riveted to his grave marker with his name:

BRUNO GIANCARLO DE SOLENNI, CPT, U.S. Army, Afghanistan

Bruno’s Grave in Crescent City, CA, his hometown.

I see his grave, but my mind is reeling, and I dissolve into the day he died.

MAIWAND DISTRICT, KANDAHAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN- September 20, 2008

We were on a convoy from our base in Helmand to Kandahar. I am driving the truck, and Bruno is the gunner. The steering wheel jerks in my hands as if it suddenly alive. The truck cab turns night into day as if the Sun suddenly appeared with a colossal roar and a mighty rush of wind from an explosion. Outside the world streaked by. I can see the hood of the truck folding into and crashing into the window.

“This can’t be happening!” my mind protests, despite the fact that I see impossible things. The blinding brightness slowly fades into crushing metal and then fire and smoke. I am spinning like I am in a washing machine, black and red, black and red, and suddenly the steering wheel is ripped free from my hands, and I am screaming…

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN- September 22, 2008

Bruno’s memorial service was not a funeral. His body was not here. It was a memorial service to say goodbye to a friend. The team gathered to honor their fallen comrade. We knelt in front of the helmet, boots, weapon, and picture of Bruno. We all openly wept.

The team was more than just a team of combat advisors, and we were a fighting unit. Over the last eight months, we had become a tightly knit family, best friends, and brothers. We would and did lay down our lives for one another.

Bruno was the “heart and soul” of the team, and now he was gone. We gathered to give a solemn salute and final goodbye to our brother-in-arms as he was returned home. The memorial service was held just before the body was to be flown back to the U.S.

Bruno’s coffin was draped in the American flag. It was carried the final few feet onto an Air Force plane bound home to America. The Chaplain said, “Today we remember our friend, comrade and a fellow American. We the sacrifice he made for us, our country, and our freedom.” In the end, heartbroken service members hugged, cried and comforted each other.

Spotting the rest of my teammates among the mourners was easy. We were struck with grief. The physical, mental and emotional loss of Bruno had taken a heavy toll. We were hunched over, fidgeting and crying.  Our physical bodies were in the chapel, but our minds were still on the desert floor 60 kilometers away, where Bruno had died. It was a place none of us would ever truly ever leave.

The remains our fallen hero were flown from Kandahar in Afghanistan to New Castle Air National Guard Base in Delaware. In Delaware, Bruno’s family was waiting to escort him home.

CRESCENT CITY, CA- October 4, 2008

Bruno’s funeral was like an extraordinary class reunion of all the people that loved him. Here were all the figures that he talked about in Afghanistan gathered in this chapel to say goodbye to him.

As a timber faller, Bruno labored through the spring and summer in groves of giant redwoods, cedar, and fir. As a soldier, he died in Afghanistan. The tree trunks he sawed and milled became his coffin built by his friends and brothers who were his pallbearers. They dug his grave at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Crescent City and laid him to rest.

The Man, The Legend

Bruno was a man whose life could come out of a novel. He had an exceptional mind and an incredible talent to relate to other human beings, whoever they were and no matter they come from. He was a compassionate man who could engage anyone on so many levels. Bruno could sense human issues and feelings about a subject. On another level and at the same time he could deal with hard facts like statistics. Usually, those two qualities seem to cancel each other out in an individual, but they came together in Bruno.

In 2008, when we went to Afghanistan, the war changed. We went as soldiers but also as peacemakers acting as combat advisors to an Afghan Infantry Battalion (600 men). Combat advisors on the ground advising the Afghan National Army could tell we were losing the war. The generals in Kabul maintained that we were winning the war. The Advisors were caught between the two. It was an adversarial relationship. Bruno always helped me to understand the war and what we, the Americans, were doing there.

I think a lot of this comes from Bruno being fearless. He could work at the tactical level, take what he saw down there, and apply at the strategic level. Bruno gave the entire team the perspective of how we were helping the Afghans. His daily talks shaped my view of the war. Bruno helped me to come to grips with the war in a way that I would not have been able to without him.

Something to remember is that America was at the High Noon of its power in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We thought that whatever we were doing in Afghanistan was right and good simply because we were Americans. We succeed in this noble undertaking because we were Americans. Bruno embodied that idealism.

We wanted to win the war for the Afghans and for ourselves. Bruno felt the best way to do this was, to tell the truth. Bruno had a keen sense of honor as a soldier. Bruno was enraged by the way people back home saw the war.

Bruno was my friend and this how I remembered him.

SAINT JOSEPH CATHOLIC CEMETERY, CRESCENT CITY, CALIFORNIA- January 1, 2013

Tears are streaming down my face. I am back at the grave marker trying to compose myself.

I say to his tombstone, “I did my best Bruno, to remember you, to honor you.”

The tears are coming stronger. An intense swirl of emotions is stirring inside of me. Feelings of regret, sorrow, anger, and gratitude overwhelm me.

“I’ve tried never to forget you. I don’t know why you died and I lived. I have done my best to be worthy of the gift you gave me and what you gave me. I will never forget you. Until I see you again, old friend.”

I knew I had to get on with my life, and it was Bruno would have wanted.

Now I can write Bruno’s book.

My Story of Salvation

“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

– Matthew 28:20, NIV

I am not an academic, a Biblical scholar, or even a very good Christian. I am a Christian who recently renewed my commitment to Christ. I am new to the Bible. I am trying to grasp some fundamental truths about Jesus Christ and the salvation He gave me.

My Need for Salvation

I take the Bible as the true and inspired Word of God. I believe that I need to be saved by the redemption and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV). I know I am a sinner and will one day be judged by God. I believe that the Fall of Man (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) is a historical event.

The consequence of that sin is an eternal separation from God, who is perfect and holy. The Fall of Man is the root of all sin in the world. God is the source of life. Separation from God means eternal death. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NIV).

The Joy of Jesus

The Promise of Salvation

By accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I was set free from sin and eternal death. Since making this decision to become a Christian, I have experienced a steadfast love and peace I have never known.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV).

It is overwhelming to me that God did this for me. But it makes me ask: How did God give His only Son?

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, paid the ultimate penalty for my sins. He died on the cross. While Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30, NIV). Jesus meant that He had truly done everything necessary for my salvation.

The Trinity

As the Son of God, Jesus is equal to God Himself, as a man God walked the earth. Theologians call this the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. However, even though Jesus was equal to God the Father, (John 1:1–3; 10:30, NIV). God chose to become a human being (Jesus) and die for us sinners, (Philippians 2:5–8, NIV).

The Gift and the Giver

So, back to the beginning- I believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son. I accepted Him as my Savior because He paid the eternal penalty for my sins when He died on the cross.

Instead of death and separation from God, I now have eternal life because I believe in Jesus Christ. By trusting in Christ, three things happen:

  1. My sins are forgiven (Colossians 1:14).
  2. I become a child of God (John 1:12).
  3. I possess eternal life because of the Gift of Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

My Declaration of Dependence

On July 4, 2016, I called out to Jesus Christ on the windswept cliff tops of Pointe du Hoc. Pointe du Hoc is located between Utah and Omaha Beaches and sits atop a prominent position on the coast of Normandy, France. The overhanging cliffs up are to 100 feet in height. I claimed my total Dependence in Christ on Independence Day.

I know I was a sinner and I asked for His forgiveness. I believed Jesus had died for sins. There was no clanging of bells or flashing lights or a moment of earthshattering ecstasy. There was a warm, stable feeling of complete confidence in God. God had heard my confession of sin when I acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and master of my life.

The Bible says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13, NIV). My simple declaration has been an anchor of my faith that saved my life.

No Easy Days

I still have bad days. I am weak, lazy, and sinful. I try not to focus on my weaknesses and faults (too many to list). Instead, I put my trust in Jesus Christ to help me.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20, NIV).

My faith in God has brought joy to my life. He has fulfilled every promise He made me. I am still learning to walk in the Christian life. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

The Christian Example of Mr. Steve Bruhn

More than any other person outside of my parents and my wife, Mr. Steve Bruhn has influenced my life. As I look back, I am convinced that God’s providence, that Mr. Bruhn opened his martial arts school (K.C. Chung Tae Kwon Do) around the corner from my house. He would become my teacher, mentor, and friend. Mr. Bruhn is by far the most unforgettable and most faithful Christian I have ever known.

Teacher and Friend

In the fuzzy memory of my childhood, he really had two callings: First, as a martial arts teacher. In his Dojang (Korean for “training hall”) four to five nights a week he would teach me how to punch and kick. His second calling was as my friend and mentor as a Christian. In this second calling, he would have a profound impact on my life of being my most faithful counselor and advisor.

When I first saw Mr. Bruhn, I never thought he would become a mentor and good friend to me, really more of a big brother. But by chance, I regularly visited with him before each class started. Little did I know the impact this incredible man would have on my passage into manhood.

Mr. Bruhn shared with me his experience as a Tae Kwon Do teacher and his struggle as a Christian. This was an intense time for me. I was at the awkward age of fourteen-years-old and about to start high school. Mr. Bruhn and I became fast friends. I quickly became involved with helping out around the Dojang. Mr. Bruhn would also tell me about his journey as a Christian.

With each story, Mr. Bruhn would always impart a life lesson from the Bible. He’d used the story about opening his own martial arts school and about doing whatever it takes to accomplish a goal in life. His experience in being a teacher conveyed to me the importance of the Christian example of tolerance, respect, and compassion for people who are different from you. Mr. Bruhn’s most important lesson was that a real man stands up for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Mr. Bruhn would always ask me about what was going on in my life. He’d listen intently and provide some counsel and words of encouragement or sometimes a verbal kick in the butt if I needed it. After each visit with him, I felt uplifted and edified. This is priceless for a restless young man.

Bible Lessons

Mr. Bruhn’s faith in God was the kind of heartfelt worship in which even an uneducated person like me could understand. Mr. Bruhn prayed daily. When praying, he would bow his head as a sign of respect toward God. Sometimes he would quote Bible verses in our conversations. These verses would remind me of God’s unity, God’s providence, and the promise of God’s love.

My memories of that time were about transformation and tradition, growing up and growing wise, and finding myself– even 25 years later. One day, years later, I met an old friend from high school who knew Mr. Bruhn too. He said, “I really admire Mr. Bruhn, but he wasted his life just teaching at that Tae Kwon Do school. He neglected his physical and social life. He could have been so much more.”

I stopped in my tracks, looked at him in amazement, and said, “No way, Mr. Bruhn spent twenty-five of his best years teaching and helping people with his example. He’s lead a life most people can only preach about from an air-conditioned pulpit. His love and care of his students and the community where he lives and works can testify to his Christlike example.”

Steve Bruhn is one of only two men I ever met whom the term “great” could be applied. He rises each morning to spend an hour reading the Scriptures. Until he goes to bed at night, he leads a disciplined, dedicated life. He spreads happiness and joy to everyone he talks to.

His warmth and humor, his dedication to his students, his tremendous self-discipline, and uncompromising loyalty to God show that he lives by the ageless message of the redeeming qualities of the Gospel. His heart and example have been a blessing and benediction to my life. In Steve Bruhn, I found a teacher and a friend who changed my life. Thank God for you, sir.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Part 1

This is my attempt to try and understand the problems of the Middle East.

Judaism and Islam

Judaism and Islam are the world’s two oldest, and largest monotheistic religions and they share a city they both consider holy– Jerusalem. The two religions share a variety of beliefs, customs, and practices. At the same time, there are enough differences, both cultural and in practice, that make the two religions clash. The conflict is so bad that even the similarities between the two ancient religions have been the source of conflict. This contention goes back thousands of years. Judea is the Biblical Hebrew and Israelite home of Jewish ancestry. Arab states considered Israel as their own land since they conquered Palestine in 638 C.E., but according to written history and oral tradition, it was the promised land of the Jews. Judea was captured by the Romans and renamed Palestine. Palestine was later conquered and inhabited by the Arabs for over a thousand years. In 1881, Jewish settlers started migrating to Palestine in large numbers. Their goal was to consolidate and live together in their own culture and in their ancient homeland, they believed, promised to by God. These migrations came in greater and greater waves, especially after World War I and the Holocaust of World War II.

 

Israel and Palestine-Two Worlds Clashing

The Zionist Movement

The Zionist movement arose to restore the Jews to Israel, their believed Promise Land. Towards the end of World War I, the British government decided to endorse a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The British decision to help the Jews was made public in a letter from Lord Arthur Balfour to lead British Zionist Lord Rothschild on November 2, 1917, just before the end of World War I. The contents of the message became known as the “Balfour Declaration.” The Balfour Declaration was drafted with the assistance of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was a strong supporter of Zionism.  Britain wanted to protect her sea route to India. Britain’s economy relied heavily on trade from India. Supporting Zionism was the most straightforward way of securing lasting British influence in the Egyptian region of the Suez Canal. The Arabs resented the Jews coming in and taking over their land. Under the leadership of Grand Mufti Haj Amin El-Husseini, the Arabs rioted for days until later revolting. This riot was the first step of creating a history of hostility between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Next, Britain put a stop to Jewish immigration into Palestine. It wasn’t till after the Holocaust when Britain allowed mass immigration into Palestine. The horrors of the Holocaust left the Jew survivors with no other choice than to return to their ancestral homeland. The tremendous growth Jewish immigrants over the years into a land they had lived for over a thousand years made Palestinians angry and protective.  Not even the White Paper of 1939, which curtailed the migration of the Jews to only 75,000 and did not allow them to purchase land, satisfied the Arabs. The time of pre-independence history of Israel before 1948 created a stable base for various political parties and a specific cultural and economic development of a Jewish State. In 1947, the United Nations (U.N.) partitioned the land of Palestine into two states– one Arab and the other Jewish. The Arabs did not accept the new partition of Palestine, which led to a war. The Jews won an astounding victory against overwhelming odds, giving birth to the modern day state of Israel.

A Map of Israel and Palestinian Territories

My New Bible Study Program

Introduction

I started my Bible Study Program a month ago. I wanted to give it 30 days before I started writing on commenting on what I’ve learned. The results have been amazing.

Background

I grew up in a very secular household. My mother’s family was German Presbyterians, my father Italian Catholics. My parents never debated about God. No one was right or wrong.

For some reason, we never discussed religion. For my dad, God seemed to be a private and personal thing with him, and I didn’t want to intrude upon it. I grew up without religion simply because no one made any effort to teach me about God or any religion.

My father wanted me to be baptized by the Roman Catholic Church. I think this was more a tradition than anything. From the time, I was three years old until I was six my mother took me to a local Presbyterian Church. I attended Sunday School, but the lessons never stuck. When I six years old I told my mom I didn’t want to go to back to the church, and we never did.

After my parents divorced when I was ten, my Dad took me to Catholic Church once or twice a year.  With my brief experience of the Catholic Church, I had no direct experience of the “Divine.”

The rituals of the Catholic Church seemed very formulaic. My memories are of sitting, standing, and kneeling. The congregation said memorized verses at designated times. The service finished with believers making the sign of the cross and saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

The Catholic Church we attended didn’t seem to have a social connection. The whole experience seemed very isolating and without emotion. That is the sum of my religious experience and training.

Becoming a Christian

I felt a stirring in my heart to commit to Christ. I made a simple declaration to bring Christ into my heart. The decision gave me a sense of purpose I have not felt since I was deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

My decision to follow Jesus Christ has changed my life forever. I am determined to get an education equal to the great task of serving the Lord. A sign of my spiritual decline would be my neglect of the Bible. When I started my Bible Study, I knew nothing of God or His word.

Getting Ready

Now I see myself as a prayer warrior, an athlete in training. I try my best to study God’s word for at least an hour a day. Exposing myself to the inspired message of God has made me a happier and better man.

Going from non-belief to belief has been a transforming experience. My identity as a believer in God has changed my life. It has been a happy, satisfying, and comforting new way of looking at the world. I could never keep quiet the still small voice in my heart that kept speaking to me. I tried to be indifferent and respond to the gentle moving of the Spirit of God.

I knew the time had come to get serious about knowing the most person in human history– Jesus Christ. I didn’t know anything about His life, His teachings, or even His impact on the world. My Biblical knowledge was starting from scratch.

I know it wasn’t just about what I knew but that I knew Him.

Thru the Bible Network

I started with Dr. J. Vernon McGee, a Bible teacher, theologian, who was also a radio minister from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. In 1967, he began broadcasting the Thru the Bible Radio Network program.  Dr. McGee’s program is a systematic study of each book of the Bible, where he takes his listeners from Genesis to Revelation in a five year “Bible bus trip,” as he called it.

Dr. McGee has an easily recognizable, heavy West Texas twang. He sounds like President Lyndon B. Johnson. His 30-minute program is designed to guide listeners through the Old and New Testaments in just five years. I learned he died in 1988.

The world has changed a lot since the death of the Dr. McGee, but the daily messages remain intact and are an excellent reference tool for any beginning Bible student. Dr. McGee uses cultural references that date the program. (Still, every once in a while, you hear mention of the Soviet Union or the Vietnam War.)

I believe Dr. McGee teaches straight out of God’s word, and I think God honors that even though he has been dead for 30 years. His mission statement is ‘The whole Word to the whole world.”

How Bible Study has helped me

I use Dr. McGee’s book and study material. His commentary is helpful and has encouraging interaction with God through His Word. His book is full of discussion starters and suggested questions to help me with my study of the Bible.

I value the time I have with God’s Word. Studying it first thing in the morning allows me to make it a priority. I start each Bible study session with prayer. I humbly ask God to help seek the truth in what I read in the Bible.

The best way for me to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to live my faith through personal and physical example. Studying the Word of God has become one of my greatest treasures and hope in a new and better life.

Bible Study has helped me in four areas of my life:

  1. Help me to grow in my love for Scripture and the Lord.
  2. Gain wisdom and knowledge that the Bible teaches.
  3. Internalize the Word of God in a way that transforms my life.
  4. Getting to know Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer.

I don’t know where the Lord is leading me. I am excited about the great adventure and blessings by walking with God in faith. I know God is always faithful to His promises.

Praying- Source: thoughtco.com

Understanding Israel- The Israeli Settlements: An Uneasy Peace

Living in and around a combat zone like the Occupied Territories in Israel is complicated and extraordinary. Interviewing people from both sides to understand how this conflict impacts their daily lives. It tough looking for answers to this complicated conflict. Everything depends on what side of the conflict you are on.

In Jerusalem, you are either an Israeli or Palestinian. Both sides claim this small piece of land as their “home.” This land is divided by walls of hatred, fear, anger, and concrete. I wanted to understand why. I am going to try and put some cracks into those almost impenetrable walls.

The State of Israel was established in 1948, in an area known then as Palestine. The new nation’s borders almost immediately exploded into a war. The War of Independence led to a Palestinian Exodus into two territories: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on either side of Israel. Today some Israeli settlers are staking claim to land in the West Bank by building communities there called settlements.

With the settlers come the soldiers of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) that protect them. There also come the Palestinian protestors that want the settlers out. I was curious to find out why anyone would want to live in such a volatile place. Usually, Palestinians are not allowed into the settlements for security reasons. This decision is very controversial because the settlement is technically in Palestinian territory.

Most Israeli families want to live a normal life, away from all the controversy. To an outsider, all they hear is that the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are the reason that there is no peace agreement.

An American-Israeli settler named Tomer says, “When we came here there was nobody here, so we didn’t take anybody’s land. The hill we live on had nobody around it, and nobody was using it.”

For some Israelis, the settlements offer an affordable place to raise a family. But for the Palestinians is about getting land back they already claim as their own. Refugee camps are where many Palestinians came to live after they were displaced from their homes after Israel became a nation.

The camps started out as communities of tents for displaced Palestinian families. Now, over the last 70 years, they have grown into makeshift housing for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Israeli settlements are being built up all around the camps.

Mazin, a Palestinian activist, says, “The settlements affect my daily life. Most of the time in the summer we are without water. Most of the time in the winter without electricity. This happens because every month there is an increase in the number in the settlement.”

As the settlements push deeper into the West Bank the tensions increase. Roads leading into the settlements become battlegrounds.

“The bus stop near my house has been bombed three times,” said Udi, an Israeli student. “You can get blown up just going to school. We are restricted to living inside the fence of our settlement. The Palestinians can go wherever they want. It’s scary to be afraid all the time.”

Israeli Settlements

Israel says that this increased violence is the reason they built the walls and checkpoints that surround the Palestinian territories. Many Palestinians cannot pass through these checkpoints at all. Mariam, a Palestinian refugee, living in the West Bank cannot visit her son living in the Gaza Strip on the other side of Israel.

The settlements force the Palestinians and Israelis to live closer and closer together and pulling them further and further apart.

Jerusalem Today

“In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

– David Ben Gurion, Israel’s First Prime Minister

Jerusalem is a place like any other city. People live, work and shop, all things that you do in a normal life. But Jerusalem’s Old City is ancient and special in the hearts of Palestinians and Israelis.

The best vantage point is on the Mount of Olives, is a mountain ridge east of and adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City. The Mount of Olives is a place for several key events in the life of Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles, it’s described as the place that Jesus ascended into heaven.

From the Mount of Olives, you can see the Dome of the Rock in all its golden magnificence, shining in the noonday sun.  The Dome is a key holy site for Muslims because it’s where they believe Mohammad ascended to heaven. Behind the Dome is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Church is built on the site, where most Christians believe, that Christ was crucified. Out of site from the Mount of Olives is the Western Wall, Jewry’s holiest place. The Wall supports the Mount where the Temple once stood.

Jerusalem’s significance is not in dispute, but it’s status. After nearly 20 years divided by barbed wire, Israeli soldiers took control of the whole city, East and West, in 1967.  The international community did not recognize what Israelis called the “reunification” of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s Western Wall

All embassies stayed in Tel Aviv. East Jerusalem was accepted by the international community as the future capital of a Palestinian State. This was the agreement between a negotiated settlement of Israelis and Palestinians. President Donald Trump recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel may undermine the regional stability. The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians will be rocked.

 

 

 

 

Why Trump Moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I direct to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the new embassy will be a magnificent tribute to peace.”

– President Donald Trump

Why did Trump move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem?

President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday of moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem marks a major change in the American policy on the Middle East.

Recognizing Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of Israel is a seismic shift of seven decades of U.S.-led neutrality between Israelis and Palestinians. Both Israel and the Palestinian State claim Jerusalem as their capital. The move signifies that the U.S. recognizes Israel as the legitimate, sovereign and rightful heir to the ancient city.

Jerusalem is one of the holiest and ancient cities in the world. It is home to holy sites of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Jerusalem sits in the middle of the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After the founding of Israel in 1948, the first Arab-Israeli War erupted. It resulted in the Egyptian occupation of Gaza and the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank.

For years, a brutal civil war erupted between Palestinian guerrillas and a series of reprisal attacks by Israeli commandos. The region was caught up in the Cold War. The Arab nations surrounding Israel were getting arms from the Soviets. America and France supported Israel.

For years, Jerusalem was divided between Israeli and Palestinian control with an occupying Jordanian force. In the 1967 Six-Day War Israel captured East Jerusalem. In a matter of days, the Israelis pushed the Jordanians out of Jerusalem. Even though the Israelis signed an armistice, they continued to occupy the lands they had taken while the peace process was underway. The Israelis saw the capture of East Jerusalem as a “reunification” of their ancient capital.

The international community has never recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the entirety of Jerusalem. No countries have embassies in Jerusalem, but a few countries, including the U.S., have consulates there. All past Presidents have thought moving a U.S. embassy there would be too dangerous.

Many American conservative evangelical Christians believe a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem shows American support for Israel. Evangelical Christians make-up the biggest pro-Israel bloc in the U.S. American Christian support of Israel comes from the belief that Israel is the Holy Land promised to God’s chosen people, and God blesses those who bless the Jews.

President Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is a recognition of the sovereignty of Israel. Recognition of Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of Israel places the U.S. on the side of the democratic and Jewish state. This bold move will have repercussions for both U.S. security and diplomacy in the region.

Farewell, My Father- My New Book

What follows is the rough draft intro of my new book “Farewell, My Father”.

“For we are strangers before them, and sojourners, as were all our fathers.

1 CHRONICLES 29:15

Book Description:

This is not just a book about a great man but a book about a special relationship between a father and his youngest son.

I did my best to write an honest portrait of my father. It’s a story full of love and kindness, also full of anger and regret. My father was one of the most extraordinary and complicated men I ever knew.

From taking on all comers in an improvised boxing ring at the VFW or rushing headlong to the scene of a car accident or a building on fire to help strangers to his death three months after being diagnosed with cancer, he was a colorful character.

I remember Dad coaching me on how to box– I was awful, to him rescuing me from drowning, or taking me with him along his quixotic long 200-mile drives, “just for a cup of coffee.”

Here is my dad in all glory, his telling of whopper stories, his tormented days leading up to his death. And here, too, is the darker side of a charismatic hero: the rages, the estrangement from his son, the courting of danger, and finally his too early death.

Father and Son holding hands

Preface

I have tried to write this book several times, but in memory, my father remains fuzzy and out of focus. It’s hard to write about a man you both love and revere in total honesty. In my memory, he remains edgy, like he has been photographed, not painted.

I remember immense amount about him, almost the day-to-day material of the last three months of life. So many of those memories and emotions remain undigested. At this point, I knew he was dying so I remember him with a soft focus and not the recollection of the strong man who shaped and dominated my childhood. If you use too much of a wide-angle lens the simple man becomes distorted.

In the end, this book is written by a son about his father. There is nothing unoriginal here. The son both loves and reveres the father. The father doesn’t understand the son but loves the son in his own unique way. Sometimes that love is so remote that the son hates him a little. This book is a portrait written in love, in all the sweets and sours, and ups and downs of an evolving relationship.

My father was a good man, who overcame incredible odds. He had an almost unbelievably tough childhood. His parents were Italian immigrants, and he grew up in the Great Depression. The Oto household had too many kids and not enough love. In school he suffered from severe and undiagnosed dyslexia– he saw numbers and letters backwards.  His dyslexia forced him to become a physical dynamo. Dad quit school at twelve years old in the eighth to take a full-time bricklaying job when his father grew too sick to work. This job gave him an extreme work ethic.

At fifteen, he lied about his age to enlist in the Army in 1949. He loved the Army because it was all about being physical.

In the summer of 1950, he was fighting for his life as a sixteen-year-old infantryman in the Korean War. He came back from the Korean War as an eighteen-year-old Sergeant First Class (the Army still thought he was twenty years old). Almost everyone in his chain-of-command had been wounded or killed in over a year and half of fighting. He received several medals for bravery and was wounded twice.

With Dad, I had two fathers. The first father was a decorated soldier, a real hero, who fought in a war, a physical and manly man. But there was another father, a loving dad who taught me to ride a bicycle, who taught me to be a man. Both fathers were the same man.

The second father is what I am going to write about. I called him Dad. Dad was the most important father to me and the one I loved the most.

From the time I was a young boy, I felt certain unspoken assumptions about the course my life should take. I felt it was my duty and obligation to carry on my father’s legacy as a warrior. As a young man, I joined the U.S. Army to be a soldier like Dad.

Dad died of cancer when I was twenty-one years old. In my innocence, I had a romantic notion that being a career soldier is what he wanted me to be. I later learned that the second father would have been happy with whatever made me happy. I spent my early adulthood trying to live up to the man behind the legend, a father who only existed in an image I created.

In 2003, at Fort Benning, GA, a retired general who served with my father in Korea made the connection with Dad when he read my last name.

“Your father was one of the bravest men I ever knew,” said the highly decorated General.

A kaleidoscope of emotions came over me. Dad had been dead for seven years. When I asked Dad about his wartime his answer was always the same, “I did my job.”

The man I remember was so much more. Dad was emotionally expressive mixed in with animal magnetism, and a lot of charm and appeal. Dad gave off the image of a man with prosperity even though he was dirt poor. His generosity and love of life was his prosperity. You knew he would look after you, support you and most importantly, show you a fantastic time.

Dad was a man of contradictions. He was stoic and silent about some subjects. Especially things that were unpleasant like growing up in the Great Depression or his wartime service. If he cried, it was internal.

If Dad was happy or angry his face, especially his eyes showed every emotion. No matter what he thought about you could see it in his eyes. His absolute emotional honesty was one of his best traits.

If he loved you, he let you know it. If he were angry, he would tell you why. If he was great, lousy or whatever you knew it. If he hated someone or wanted them out of his life, they knew it. He was never quiet about anything. Total candor, total emotion all the time. A tough guy with a mask. Vulnerable and neurotic. People are fascinated by someone who has no vanity, no sense of personal boundaries, who just says this is I am. Dad seemed to say, “Come along on the ride with me, it’ll be fun.” And sometimes it was.

Dad had a chip on his shoulder. He waged war on life. Dad never cared what other people or thought or did. Dad was the atomic bomb of having fun. He was a late middle-aged adolescent always having a good time. You loved him and wanted to be a part of his movie.

People loved Dad. His friends made allowances for his outrageous behavior because he was so charming. Dad seemed upset and troubled by his own faults. Getting old was hard for him. Dad had to reconcile his own myth with encroaching old age. He mourned the loss of his physicality. Dad’s slaying of this dragon was something to watch.

A little part of him thought that he was invincible, that he could take on or do anything, but it was cancer that killed him in the end and not war or a lifetime of poverty. He was a real character. Dad was kind, arrogant and quick-tempered, funny and dramatic, insecure and beset by doubt. Every situation demanded him to be at the top of his skill, the top of his personality.

Dad’s death immortalized him in my mind.  Dad died too early in my life, I spent twenty-five years in the Army trying to live up to him. His death is the reason I became a writer.