Sunset High graduate remembered as kind, family-centered, highly proficient soldier
When U.S. Army officers showed up at the Pelham family residence near Cedar Hills around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, all the information Corey Lederer needed came from the chaplain insignia he saw on one of the men's collar.
"When two Army officers show up, you know something is up," he said. "And when one is a chaplain, you know you're not going to hear very good news. I saw the chaplain insignia. We all knew what was coming next."
That was the devastating news that Spc. John Alexander Pelham, the brother of Lederer's wife, Lyndsey, was killed in action in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
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.
On Tuesday I talked to my son, John's father, Wendall Pelham of Beaverton, told KOIN 6 News. On Wednesday, hes dead. And sometime in the next seven to 10 days Ill bury him.
Lederer, who spoke on the phone with the Valley Times on Friday afternoon, said he hadn't talked with Pelham since around Christmastime, but Lyndsey engaged with her younger brother through Facetime, a smartphone app that provides sound and video, on Sunday, Feb. 8.
Lederer described his brother-in-law as "all American, one of the most genuinely nice people" one could meet.
"He's the type of person you'd love for your daughter to marry," he said. "He had a deep sense of family and was committed to doing what's right. If you needed anything, he was the first one to volunteer to help."
Named after his grandfather John Pelham, who served as an Army colonel, Pelham grew up in Tigard and Beaverton, where he attended Cedar Park Middle School. He temporarily left Sunset High to enroll in the Bend-based Oregon National Guard's Youth Challenge Program where, in Lederer's words, Pelham became a "star cadet."
"He earned almost every award they can give," Lederer said. "He realized he could do this Army stuff really well."
Pelham returned to Sunset, where he continued playing baseball as a pitcher, as well as quarterback for the Apollos' football squad before graduating in 2010. A baseball scholarship took him to the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif., but in 2011 Pelham decided to enlist.
As a father you are proud, Im grateful my son had the integrity, desire to serve his country, Wendall Pelham told KOIN. My son was a warrior and he knew part of his calling in life was to defend the freedoms of our country.
Starting off in Special Forces, Pelham served for several months in 2012 and returned for a second tour of duty the following year. Despite the complex, secretive nature of his assignment, Pelham did his best to stay in touch with family and friends and come home for the holidays.
"He was never able to disclose where he was," Lederer said. "We were just never able to know exactly where he was stationed in Afghanistan."
His family had full confidence in Pelham's abilities and judgment, but that didn't always make the situation easier back home in Beaverton.
"You always worry," Lederer said. "You wouldn't be human if you didn't worry. John was well trained, and served with amazingly talented men in the Army. We felt like, because the people he was with, he was safe.
"We knew he could get himself out of dangerous situations," he added. "This is just one of those situations that was just a bit too difficult to get out of."
Wendell was preparing Friday to fly to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where his son's body was flown.
He was a wonderful human being with a special heart, Wendall said. To lose one of your own children, I never thought it would be mine.
The family is planning a memorial service in Beaverton, followed by a graveside service at Willamette National Cemetery in Southeast Portland, where Pelham will be buried with full military honors.
"He was an amazing guy," Lederer said. "America lost a true hero this week."