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Nearly 1,000 attend funeral for Army Spc. John Pelham

U.S. Army Spc. John Alexander Pelham was bigger than life, his father said. "He'll be bigger than death."

"I love you so much," his mother said. "I miss you so much. I can't wait to see you again. Thank you for being my son."

"He is and always will be the love of my life," his fiancée said. "I was prepared to spend forever with him. 

Pelham, a 2010 Sunset High School graduate, was celebrated Monday morning in a funeral in Beaverton that drew nearly 1,000 people. Outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Southwest 99th Avenue in Beaverton, three dozen men and women, members of the Patriot Guard Riders, stood at attention in the rain, saying only, "Good morning," to those arriving. A Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue truck sat in the parking lot, an American flag hanging from the top of its ladder.

Inside the church, mementoes of Pelham's life sat on two tables: His Sunset High School baseball cap. His childhood Boy Scout uniform. The orange Crocs he loved to wear, telling his family, "You can do anything in Crocs."

Pelham, 22, was killed Feb. 12 while serving in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, as part of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Sgt. First Class Roberto C. Skelt, 41, of York, Fla., also died.

Pelham's father, Wendall Pehlam II, said during the funeral service that he and his family took pride in Alex, as they called the soldier, giving up his life while doing what he "loved and cared about."

"He knew that when he went back for a second deployment, and he hooked up with the Special Forces group, that there was a chance," Wendall Pelham said.

But, he said, his son's mentality was, "Let's go out with our guns blazing and boots on."

Pelham's fiancée, Laura Graue, a nursing student, also testified to that mentality. She worried about being an Army wife, she told the crowd, but she knew how much he loved the life, and she couldn't imagine taking that away from him.

At about 11:45, a family procession left the church, heading west on Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, south on Oregon 217, then south on Interstate 5 and north onto Interstate 205 to Willamette National Cemetery in Southeast Portland.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has ordered all flags at public institutions to be flown at half-staff on Monday in Pelham's honor.

The Pelham family asks that any donations made on John Pelham's behalf be made to the Oregon Youth Challenge Program, an Oregon National Guard program for at-risk teens based in Bend. Donors are asked to contact Karen Rawnsley, the program's deputy director, at 541-317-9623, ext. 226, karen.l.rawnsley@mil.state.or.us or mailed to Oregon Youth Challenge, 23861 Dodds Road, Bend, Oregon 97701.

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