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Gone, but never forgotten

Those who knew Ryley Gallinger-Long, especially his wife and twin brother, pledge to keep the Cornelius sailor's memory alive
by: Chase Allgood Hope Gallinger-Long, wife of Ryley Gallinger-Long, and his twin brother Wyatt (far right) embrace last week at Hillsboro Airport before making the trip to Forest Grove with Ryley’s remains. The Navy medic died Aug. 11 while on duty in Afghanistan.

In his white-gloved hands, the family placed a black and white photo of the two of them, smiling for the camera on their wedding day.

That way, a piece of Hope and Ryley Gallinger-Long's love story remained with the Navy hospitalman when they closed his casket at 9:50 Saturday morning, minutes before a wrenching funeral at Forest Grove's new Mormon church and during a somber procession to Willamette National Cemetery in Portland the same afternoon.

There, the 19-year-old medic, a 2010 Forest Grove High School graduate who was killed while aiding a wounded Marine during a patrol exercise in southwestern Afghanistan Aug. 11, was buried as a hero.

With his identical twin brother, Navy fire controlman Wyatt Gallinger-Long, standing by Hope's side in his crisp sailor's uniform, Ryley was honored with a 21-gun salute.

Rear Admiral Margaret Rykowski presented a Purple Heart medal and a folded American flag to Ryley's young widow, who wore the same dress she'd worn to the 2009 junior-senior prom, her first official date with the sailor who became her husband just last March.

A family grieved, a community mourned - and Ryley found his final resting place with the treasured photo folded between his fingers.

Ear-to-ear grin

Emotional snapshots of the couple's brief time together would stay tucked away in Hope's heart forever.

The prom, for one. Or, the way he'd 'get that huge ear-to-ear grin whenever he saw me,' Hope said of their budding relationship at Forest Grove High.

'That's how I knew he liked me,' she noted.

Or the time last October, after they'd lost contact for more than a year following her graduation, when he sent her a text message telling her he was at Navy boot camp.

'After that we talked every day,' she recalled.

Last November, Ryley proposed to Hope over the phone, and they agreed to marry as soon as he got some time off.

'At that point Ryley was in Great Lakes, Ill., but he didn't get leave,' Hope said.

She was working at a dentist's office in Utah.

Ryley broke free for a couple days in March, and Hope flew to Chicago to meet him. They became husband and wife at the Waukegan, Ill., courthouse, with Wyatt their only witness.

The date was March 12, Hope's 20th birthday.

'I flew in on a Thursday and flew out on a Sunday,' Hope said. She returned to Oregon until early July, when she met Ryley in Jacksonville, N.C., for a week of pre-deployment leave.

'We spent two weeks together total,' she noted. 'That was all we got.'

Less than 30 days into his first overseas deployment, Ryley lost his life. Even now, it's hard for Hope to accept she's a widow.

'I know he's gone, but it's still sinking in,' she said last Thursday, two days before the funeral.

With encouragement from friends and family to buoy them, Hope and Ryley had made plans for their future.

'We wanted a big family,' Hope said wistfully. 'I had no doubt in my mind that he would make a great husband.'

Loyal, dependable and reliable, Ryley anchored Hope's world.

'He was the kindest person,' she said. 'He treated me better than anyone ever had.

'He loved with all his heart, and what he was thinking was always plain on his face.'

Ryley had a chance to visit his father, Jeff Gallinger, in Seaside, Ore., before deploying with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1, 2nd Marine Division Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.

His mother, Susan Blanchard, flew in from Cornelius to spend a few days with Ryley, Hope and Wyatt.

'We're gonna bring Doc back home'

The date for Ryley's departure, July 16, came all too soon. When it was time for him to board a bus bound for the airport and transport to Afghanistan, the newlyweds had a hard time letting go.

'We were at the base in the morning, and I was crying pretty hard after kissing him goodbye,' Hope recalled. 'Another corpsman turned to me and said, 'We're going to bring Doc back home.''

Ryley, who had trained as a cadet with Forest Grove Fire and Rescue while at FGHS, had decided to pursue medical training in the Navy, earning him that nickname.

Once he was seated on the bus, Ryley continued communicating with Hope.

'I could see him and he was texting me,' she said. 'At one point I was holding his hand through the window, and he called back to me.

'He said, 'Don't worry baby, I'm gonna be okay,' she said.

That was the last time they saw each other.

'I know he was nervous because he didn't know what to expect over there,' Hope said. 'But he was so excited to go - what he had a hard time with was leaving me behind.'

Once in Afghanistan, Ryley would post occasionally on Facebook, letting Hope and other family and friends know he was doing all right.

'I never thought in a million years that something would happen to Ryley,' said Hope. 'He'd always laugh at me when I was worried, and then do something silly to make me feel better.'