Monday, June 14, 2021

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County to honor Afghan War’s fallen soldiers

Memorial Day honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military, but the Colusa County Board of Supervisors plan a more lasting memorial for the two young soldiers who were killed in America’s longest-running conflict.

The board plans to dedicate two stretches of Old Highway 99 to Army Pfc. Justin Castillas, who was killed in action on July 4, 2009, and Army Pfc. Reuben “Boy” Lopez, who was killed in action on Aug. 11, 2011, both while fighting in the Afghanistan War.

The war began in 2001 following the toppling of the Taliban, a political and religious faction that ruled the country and provided sanctuary for al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attack on the United States.

At the request of Colusa County Supervisor Merced Corona, the Board of Supervisors approved the installation of four memorial highway signs to be placed along the south and northbound lanes of Highway 99 to honor the two men.

The sign honoring Castillas, 19, will be placed at the southern end of Colusa County above the Yolo County line.

Castillas, 19, lived in Dunnigan but attended Arbuckle schools and graduated from Pierce High School.

He died while trying to carry a wounded soldier to safety after a surprise attack on his combat outpost in the Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan.

“Private Castillas received the Silver Star for bravery,” Corona said.

Lopez, 27, of Williams, died along with four other soldiers, while on mission in the Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, when the vehicle he was riding in exploded from a roadside bomb.

“He was a friend to many and a graduate of Williams High School,” said Corona, who added his memorial signs will be in the vicinity of Hahn Road.

Corona said he, Supervisor Kent Boes, and Colusa County Veterans Services Officer Don Parsons looked at a variety of memorial signs dedicated to fallen soldiers and law enforcement officers, and are still working on an actual design.

Parsons is currently working on permission from the US Army to use its official seal. County officials also want the American Flag, as well as the soldiers’ Killed in Action date, which is not commonly seen on highway memorial signs.

Corona said they debated whether to add “KIA” with the dates but he felt it was important that they be included.

“In the police world, it’s the End of Watch,” said Corona, whose daughter, Natalie, died in 2019 while on duty with the Davis Police Department. “It is a very important date.”

The board directed Parson to work with Public Works Director Michael Azevedo on the project, as highway signs and placements are regulated by federal guidelines.

Corona said Old Highway 99 was selected for the memorials because they are county-controlled roadways that do not require going through CalTrans for approval.

The board will approve the final design for the signs before they are installed.

They anticipate approving the design before the signs are installed, and the Natalie Corona Memorial Fund will provide the funding so taxpayer funds are not used.

Corona acknowledged that soldiers from Colusa County died in earlier wars, but said it was not this board’s intent to memorialize those killed in previous conflicts.

“It’s not to minimize their loss, but this is an opportunity for us – on our watch – to memorialize these two young soldiers who died in battle and their sacrifice,” Corona said.

While the Afghanistan War officially ended in 2014, some U.S. troops and allied forces remain on a counterterrorism mission and to train, advise, and assist Afghan Security Forces working to secure peace in their country.

President Joe Biden, in April, said he would withdraw troops by Sept. 11, 2021 – 20 years after the war began.

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