Forest Grove, Hillsboro veterans' advocates lead roadside tribute to fallen Beaverton soldier

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - An estimated 400 to 500 people of all ages took part in the patriotic tribute honoring the life and service of the 2010 Sunset High School graduate who was killed in combat in Afghanistan on Feb. 12.Amber Gilley and Zack Gallinger-Long hoped hundreds of folks would line Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway Monday afternoon to pay tribute to a fallen Beaverton soldier and support his grieving family.

Gilley, of Forest Grove, and Gallinger-Long, of Hillsboro, spread the word via social media — and by phone and on foot — that anyone, even people who didn’t know Army Spc. John A. Pelham, could honor his life and sacrifice by standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the roadside Monday starting at noon.

That’s when a memorial service for Pelham, who was killed in action in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 12, was likely to adjourn at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Southwest 99th Avenue in Beaverton. by: COURTESY OF THE PELHAM FAMILY - John A. Pelham of Beaverton, shown here with Lyndsey Pelham Lederer, was killed Wednesday, Feb. 12, in Afghanistan. He was a 2010 graduate of Sunset High School.

When Pelham’s family emerged, Gallinger-Long — whose 19-year-old brother Ryley, a Navy hospitalman, died while on active duty in Afghanistan in 2011 — envisioned a sea of American flags and people showing how much they care.

“When Ryley came home and we had all those people lining the streets between Hillsboro and Forest Grove, it was just so powerful,” said Gallinger-Long, chairman of the Oregon Military Families Task Force, a group whose members are appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber. “The show of support was just jaw-dropping.”

"The Pelhams lost a family member for life, and we have this one opportunity to show them our appreciation."

Gallinger-Long estimated 400 to 500 people lined Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway to pay tribute to Spc. Pelham under a light misting of rain punctuated by dozens of umbrellas. The mile-long route he mapped out was clogged with people waving American flags and TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Case Bodmer, 4, made a sign in honor of U.S. Army Spc. John Pelham after his mother told him the story of how the Beaverton soldier died while serving his country.

"When I saw that first family member, her mouth was open with her hand over it," said Gallinger-Long. "They're just in such shock that so many people would come out to show their support.

"For me, the most powerful moment was when the hearse came by. It's just so sad — you don't like to look at it, but that's what you're there for."

Since his brother’s death two-and-a-half years ago, Gallinger-Long, 28, has worked tirelessly with Gilley to drum up support for veterans and their families. The pair spearheaded the transformation of a Cornelius park to Veterans Memorial Park, which was officially dedicated in 2012.

Pelham’s name will be the 155th name to be engraved on a granite wall in the park honoring soldiers from Washington County either missing in action or killed in action in conflicts dating from World War II forward.

Pelham, 22, a 2010 Sunset High School graduate, and Sgt. First Class Roberto Skelt, 41, of York, Fla., both soldiers engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom, were struck and killed by enemy small arms gunfire. It was Pelham's second tour of duty with the 2nd Batallion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), based at Fort Bragg, N.C. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Rich Clark of Beaverton shows his support for the Pelham family during the funeral procession for U.S. Army Spc. John A. Pelham.

It was Gilley who first alerted Gallinger-Long that another soldier from Washington County had been lost in action in the Middle East.

“Amber sent me an email from the airport,” Gallinger-Long said. “She was on her way out of town, but she said, ‘We’re going to have to get on this — he’s from Washington County.’”

The sad news sent Gallinger-Long to the phone within hours, drumming up support from Beaverton-area businesses whose owners and managers pledged to change their marquees to read “Thank you for your service, Spc. Pelham” and to provide parking space for people who wanted to line the procession route on Monday. Gallinger-Long also worked with the Beaverton Police Department to ensure a safe and orderly event.

A graveside service at Willamette National Cemetery in Southeast Portland followed the Monday morning funeral in Beaverton. Pelham was buried with full military TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Community members lined Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway on Monday afternoon to show their respect to U.S. Army Spc. John Pelham and his TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - As the funeral procession made its way from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Southwest 99th Avenue in Beaverton to Willamette National Cemetery, it was sent off with an outpouring of community support.

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