John Pelham is gone, but the former Sunset Apollo is far from forgotten.
Sunset High School and the Apollos baseball team honored the alum and former soldier with a pregame ceremony, an honorary banner and in front of a sea of well-wishers prior to their game with Westview on Friday, April 29, at Sunset High School.
Pelham was killed in Afghanistan in 2014, but at his alma mater, his memory lives on. Honoring Pelham has become an annual tradition for the Apollos.
"The baseball program came to us a year or so after John's death and said, 'We want to honor John's legacy and living experience,'" said his father, Wendall Pelham. "'Hopefully with your permission we'll turn it into a community event that can help teach the young men and young women of our community what it means to be servants."
John was one of six Pelham children and "an amazing athlete," said his father. But despite his affinity for sports, the teen didn't share that same affinity for school, which led him losing his athletic eligibility his junior year and derailing his prospects of graduating with his class.
After a discussion with a counselor at the school, Pelham chose to enroll in the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program (OYCP), which is the state's only accredited statewide alternative high school.
OYCP is a five-and-a-half-month program, uses a non-traditional model and operates similarly to a military academy. Cadets are eligible to earn a high school diploma, GED or credit recovery of eight certified credits from required class work completion. It was difficult, but also exactly what Pelham needed to get back to Sunset, back on track to graduate with his class, and back to what he missed most: baseball.
"He made up all the credits in six months," Wendall Pelham said. "He had this goal that he was going to come back and play baseball at Sunset High School, and not just play, but he was going to start."
And he did just that, starting in left field for the entirety of his senior season.
John Pelham went on to enlist in the U.S. Army and became an intelligence analyst, serving two deployments over two and a half years prior to his death in 2014.
Wendall Pelham said his son fell in love with the Army over that time, and that John was both proud and honored to serve his country.
"To say he enjoyed it (the Army) would be an understatement," Wendall Pelham said. "He was beyond passionate about it and was the most at peace in his life than I'd ever seen him. He was focused, driven and humbled to be serving with the special operations communities."
As part of last Friday's pre-game ceremony, members of the Patriot Guard Riders partook in a motorcycle procession on the field, Sunset players wore camouflage uniforms and hats with "JP8" embroidered on them, United States flags were abound, and a banner honoring the fallen soldier was unveiled on the left field wall.
Wendall Pelham said he couldn't be more proud of his son in the wake of his death. To him, his passing had a deeper purpose.
The family started a nonprofit called Live Like John, which supports the nation's military Gold Star families and veterans through various forms of fundraising, including an annual racquetball tournament. As a result of that, the Pelham family has been able to help veterans in countless ways, including paying struggling veterans' rent and medical expenses, organize hunting and fishing trips, and funding vacations, and all in the name of their fallen loved one.
"We know without a shadow of a doubt that John's life was not lost in vain," Wendall Pelham said. "His sacrifice was for the betterment of us as a family and has allowed us to do things we never would've done. So sometimes after we're able to help someone in a really cool way, I'll look up to the skies and say, 'OK, now you're just showing off.'"
If you're interested in learning more about the Live Like John charity, visit its website at livelikejohn.us.
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