Remembering greatness

La Cañada Flintridge resident Andrew Torres was a member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2002, which was preparing for a military career when the 9/11 terror strikes occurred.

Many of his classmates went on to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Torres ended up fighting his battle at home.

During that school year, Torres was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. He died in April 2004 at age 23.

Torres’ courageous effort to complete his studies and carry on is now chronicled in a book capturing the wide range of experiences of the Naval Academy Class of 2002, “In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice and Service from America’s Longest War.”

The chapter was written by his mother, Valley Sun columnist Anita Brenner, with the help of his sister, Rachel Torres.

Brenner called it her toughest writing assignment, but said her son’s story fits within the 33 tales told in the book.

“Everyone in that class went through some soul-searching … because they know things were about to change, and that they were going to be in harm’s way,” Brenner said. “Going through that process for our son was part of what gave him the courage to face cancer the way that he did.”

The book, published by the U.S. Naval Institute, will be released Sept. 11.

Brenner said she was happy to contribute to a project that tells an important story and helps others. All proceeds from the book will go to eight charities supporting veterans.

Josh Welle, the president of Torres’ graduating class and lead editor of “In the Shadow of Greatness,” said he wanted to include Torres’ story to emphasize how the Naval Academy builds character and how that character will be tested in unexpected ways.

Torres, despite the cancer, worked to complete his studies and pass his final exams so that he could graduate with his class on May 24, 2002.

“He was the first one of our class to go to war in his battle against cancer,” Welle said. “The characteristics that he displayed in that final year or two of his life are the attributes that we displayed at war … his selflessness, his commitment to being a Marine, his passion to graduate side-by-side with his classmates as a team.”

Brenner’s chapter is one of four written by a parent who has lost a child since the Class of 2002 graduated.

Welle said he hoped the book would reach beyond those readers interested mostly in the military, and early results are good. “In the Shadow of Greatness” already has sold out its initial printing of 5,000 copies, he said.

“It is not [just] a book for people who have served, although they will like it,” he said. “Our next goal is to transcend a military audience.”

Brenner said she will join Welle for an “In the Shadow of Greatness” event at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena on Oct. 5, and will host an event Nov. 11 with Naval Officer Patrick Anderson at Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse in La Cañada.

Contributing to the book, Brenner said, deepened her understanding of the world her son had entered at the academy.

“It really is a privilege for me to interact with these 32-year-olds,” Brenner said. “Most have had multiple deployments in the last 10 years, and they’ve learned things from it and they collaborate in a way I’m not sure other generations do.”

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