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

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hundreds of people line up Monday along Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway and show their respects as the funeral procession for U.S. Army Spc. John Pelham passes by.Amber Gilley and Zack Gallinger-Long joined an army of folks lining 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 last week that anyone, even people who didn’t know Army Spc. John A. Pelham, was invited to honor his life and sacrifice by standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the roadside.

Under a misting of rain punctuated by dozens of umbrellas, an estimated 400 to 500 people created a human corridor along the mile-long route.

“When I saw that first family member, her mouth was open with her hand over it,” said Gallinger-Long. “They were 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.”

They stood, American flags in hand and saluting, as a memorial service for Pelham adjourned from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Southwest 99th Avenue and his funeral procession rolled along the highway.

When Pelham’s family emerged from the mid-day service, Gallinger-Long — whose 19-year-old brother Ryley, a Forest Grove High School graduate and Navy hospitalman, died while on active duty in Afghanistan in 2011 — wanted a sea of caring people to greet them.

“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.” by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The family of Army Spc. John Pelham emerges from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Southwest 99th Avenue in Beaverton after his memorial service Monday.

“The Pelhams lost a family member for life, and we have this one opportunity to show them our appreciation,” he said last week.

In Forest Grove, Mayor Pete Truax choked up as he referred to Pelham when starting his State of the City address. So did Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin (also delivering his State of the City address), who noted that Cornelius would need to add another name to the wall in Veterans Memorial Park.

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 the former Arboretum Park in Cornelius 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 in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 12, according to officials at the U.S. Department of Defense. It was Pelham’s second tour of duty with the 2nd Batallion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), based at Fort Bragg, N.C.

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

“Amber sent me an email from the airport,” Gallinger-Long said last Thursday. “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.’”

Pelham 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 provide parking space for people who wanted to line the procession route.

Gallinger-Long said he wanted to “see if we can stretch it all the way down Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway until it reaches Highway 217,” and worked with Beaverton Police to ensure a safe and orderly event.

Pelham was buried in Willamette National Cemetery in southeast Portland Monday afternoon with full military honors. Ryley Gallinger-Long’s gravesite is not far away.

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