Portland family of fallen Afghan vet: ‘How did this happen?


John Pelham was a Green Beret who died in Afghanistan in 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For Wendall Pelham and his family, there will never be a day that goes by they don’t miss their son, Army Specialist John Pelham.

In the fall of 2013, Pelham, who was a Green Beret raised in Portland and graduated from Sunset High School, was deployed to Afghanistan. He was in the Kapisa Province in February 2014 when he volunteered for a mission. He died in that mission, but ended up saving between 200 and 500 American soldiers.

john pelham_287447
John Pelham in an undated courtesy photo provided in 2016

Pelham was 22. He’s buried at the Willamette National Cemetery and is on the Wall of Heroes at the NSA headquarters in Maryland.

“When you look at the number of commendations that he received for the length of time he was in service, it just doesn’t happen,” his father Wendall told KOIN 6 News Monday night. “I mean, he has a whole chest full of ribbons.”

“The motto for the Green Berets is ‘De Oppresso Liber,'” Wendall said. “To free the oppressed.”

Army Specialist John Pelham was a Green Beret who died in 2014 in Afghanistan. (Courtesy photo: Pelham family)

The day John died “he had tracked a group of insurgents and they happened to be in the operating base disguised as Afghan National Army soliders embedded with our troops. He realized they were there. By the time he alerted the teams, one of the insurgents came out of a vehicle with a machine gun in a courtyard,” Wendall said. “Two green berets were having a conversation and four other soliders were wounded and John was killed on the end of the arc.”

Wendall Pelham looked at images of Afghanis desperate to flee Taliban control, clinging to US military planes. It’s frustrating and sad, he said.

“My father spent 30-plus years in the Army, my brother spent 19 years in the Army, my son spent two and a half years and gave his life to the US Army, to this country,” he said. “And I’m asking the difficult question—do we, are we, will we be trusted?”

He said the men and women who served with his son are asking the same questions. Wendall said he’s recieved phone calls and messages from them over the weekend and they express a range of emotions.

“One is, how did we let this happen? What about John and Lonnie and Tiko and Danny and the names just go down the list. How did we let this happen and let their legacies get tarnished by this, which is not true, but that’s the emotion speaking,” Wendall said.

“How did we as a nation not see this coming? How did we as a government not stand up for the Afghani people?”

The following is information provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs:

Veterans from all eras are reacting to the events in Afghanistan, such as the U.S withdrawal and the takeover by the Taliban.You are not alone.Veterans may question the meaning of their service or whether it was worth the sacrifices they made. They may feel more moral distress about experiences they had during their service. It’s normal to feel this way. Talk with your friends and families, reach out to battle buddies, connect with a peer-to-peer network, or sign up for mental health services. Scroll down for a list common reactions and coping advice.
Resources available right now
Veterans Crisis Line – If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255, then PRESS 1 or visit http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/For emergency mental health care, you can also go directly to your local VA medical center 24/7 regardless of your discharge status or enrollment in other VA health care.
Vet Centers – Discuss how you feel with other Veterans in these community-based counseling centers. 
70% of Vet Center staff are Veterans. Call 1-877-927-8387 or find one near you.VA Mental Health Services Guide – This guide will help you sign up and access mental health services.MakeTheConnection.net – information, resources, and Veteran to Veteran videos for challenging life events and experiences with mental health issues.
RallyPoint – Talk to other Veterans online. Discuss: What are your feelings as the Taliban reclaim Afghanistan after 20 years of US involvement?Download VA’s self-help apps – Tools to help deal with common reactions like, stress, sadness, and anxiety. You can also track your symptoms over time.
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) –  Request a Peer Mentor
VA Women Veterans Call Center – Call or text 1-855-829-6636 (M-F 8AM – 10PM & SAT 8AM – 6:30PM ET)
VA Caregiver Support Line – Call 1-855-260-3274 (M-F 8AM – 10PM & SAT 8AM – 5PM ET)
Together We Served –Find your battle buddies through unit pages
George W. Bush Institute – Need help or want to talk? Check In or call:1-630-522-4904 or email: checkin@veteranwellnessalliance.org
Elizabeth Dole Foundation Hidden Heroes – Join the Community
American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network – Peer Support and Mentoring
Team Red, White & Blue – Hundreds of events weekly. Find a chapter in your area.
Student Veterans of America – Find a campus chapter to connect with.
Team Rubicon – Find a local support squad.

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