In the days since Dane Partridge was fatally wounded while serving as a volunteer soldier in Ukraine, his sister has found moments of comfort in surprising places: first, a misplaced baseball cap discovered in her laundry room, then in a photo of a battered pickup truck with only one tire intact.
The 34-year-old Idaho man died Tuesday from injuries suffered during a Russian attack in Luhansk.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed the recent death of a U.S. citizen in Donbas without naming them, The Washington Post reported.
A former U.S. Army infantryman, Partridge felt "spiritually called" to volunteer with the Ukranian military as they defend the country from invading Russian forces, his sister Jenny Corry said. He flew to Poland on a one-way ticket in April, his rucksack packed with body armor, a helmet and other tactical gear.
"Made it to the embassy, getting on a bus for the border," Partridge wrote on his Facebook page on April 27. "From this point on I will not likely be giving locations or actions for opsec reasons. I will let you all know I'm alive."
Partridge joined a military unit that included several volunteers from other countries, Corry said, the men mostly relying on interpreters to communicate. Partridge and his fellow soldiers were in Severodonetsk, a city in the Luhansk region, when he was hit in the head with shrapnel during an attack by Russian fighting vehicles, Corry said.
The unit had no stretchers and was still under attack, Corry said, but Partridge's fellow soldiers carried him out on a blanket and loaded him and other injured colleagues into a pickup truck to rush them to safety.
"I have a picture of the truck," Corry said in a phone interview Friday. The photo shows a drab-painted pickup with shredded rubber hanging off the wheel hubs. All but one of the tires were destroyed in the rush to safety.
"As a family, we really like that picture of the vehicle — it speaks to the bravery of how they tried to save their men, and the way they pushed that vehicle to its last leg just to get to the hospital," she said. "It speaks volumes."
Partridge leaves behind five young children. Corry deflected questions about the children and some other parts of Partridge's life, saying the family had jointly agreed to focus on his military service out of respect to those "who are still living and still affected by his personal life."
Military service had been a large part of Partridge's life. He was the youngest of five kids, and his father was a member of the U.S. Air Force. As a child, Partridge liked to dress up in his dad's oversized camouflage uniform and play "army guy" in the dirt, Corry said.
By the time he had graduated from high school, Partridge had grown into a gregarious man with a booming voice and a joking personality, she said.
"When he showed up, you knew he was there. He had a bigger personality," she said. "If somebody was sad, he was going to make sure he cheered them up. He liked to spend quality time with people."
He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2006 and served in Baghdad as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2007-09 before leaving the military in 2012.
He didn't talk a lot about his experiences in Iraq, but she knew some of it weighed heavily on him throughout his life.
Still, it was the battlefield where Partridge thrived. Corry believed the adrenaline, the sense of purpose and the heightened feeling of service were what drew him in.
"It was almost as if he could tell he had a greater purpose to fulfill," she said. "Sometimes it was harder for him to mesh in the civilian world."
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Partridge felt a need to help the Ukrainians.
Partridge was in a coma and on life support for eight days before he died. Family members had a chance to say goodbye, long distance, before he passed, she said.
The family is raising money to bring Partridge's remains home to be buried in Blackfoot, Idaho. They also hope to raise money to replace the truck his unit used to bring Partridge to the hospital, and to purchase other vital supplies for his unit, she said.
At least four other U.S. citizens have been killed while fighting in Ukraine, based on reports from their families and the U.S. State Department. The Ukrainian government has recruited people with military experience to join the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine.