Fallen Navy hospital corpsman is remembered at Echo Shaw School, memorial park
Last Thursday was a bit of a coming home for Cornelius resident Susan Blanchard.
As she sat in the auditorium of Echo Shaw Elementary School watching children flood out the doors to plant flags next to a Japanese Maple, she remembered her twins, Ryley and Wyatt Gallinger-Long, as they competed with each other to answer questions first in class.
'They would get physical and push each other,' Blanchard said, a wry smile crossing her face.
Both brothers graduated from Echo Shaw and headed on to Forest Grove High School and to military careers.
Ryley never came back.
The Navy hospital corpsman was killed in Afghanistan Aug. 11, 2011.
Since Ryley's death, Blanchard has witnessed Cornelius and the Forest Grove area come together for one memorial after another for her lost son.
And Thursday, as the youngsters planted those flags, Blanchard said she was moved.
Some of the students wrote letters and presented them to her during the ceremony, which dedicated the tree in Ryley's memory.
Blanchard said when she and Hope Gallinger-Long, Ryley's widow, and his older brother Zack, started to read the letters they had to stop. The contents were too moving.
'You can tell from what they wrote they really got it,' Blanchard said of the kids.
Veterans park taking shape
Just a half-mile away from the school a different kind of memorial is taking shape.
Amber Gilley and a group of citizens, including Zack Gallinger-Long, have managed to secure funding for a flag pole and new signage at Cornelius' Arboretum Park, located at 1251 Baseline St. With the city's blessing, the park is now called Veterans Memorial Park, in honor of the city's lost soldiers, sailors and pilots.
The park will have a formal dedication ceremony at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 30. A week ahead of the birthday of Ryley Gallinger-Long, July 4, and Kenny Leisten, another Cornelius soldier killed in action in Iraq. Leisten was born July 5, 1984.
Leisten was in the same National Guard unit as Gilley's husband, Dave, more than seven years ago. When Leisten was killed in July 2004 in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in Iraq, Gilley began to think about a memorial park. Leisten, the first soldier from Cornelius killed in Iraq, was remembered in memorials across the state.
Following the massive community outpouring last year in response to the death of Gallinger-Long in Afghanistan, Gilley's dream of a memorial park in Cornelius has finally become a reality.