By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
The Red Bank Catholic school community stood as a silent, prayerful witness for one of their own Feb. 4 as the motorcade for 21-year-old Jamie Riley processed down Peters Place on its way to his funeral Mass in Tower Hill Presbyterian Church. Pfc. Riley, a 2015 graduate of the Red Bank high school, died Jan. 22 with another soldier during a military training exercise in New Mexico.
Robert Abatemarco, principal of Red Bank Catholic, related the students’ reactions as they stood, American flags in hand, along the fallen hero’s route.
Photo Gallery: Funeral Procession for RBC alumnus
“It was such a moving thing for us,” he recalled. “There were police, state troopers, so many of them… As the motorcade went by, it was so powerful. There was silence from the students and teachers, then the students just started praying aloud the Hail Mary and Our Father. It was beautiful and emotional, a moment of strong reverence and an extraordinary tribute.”
The principal said Riley’s desire to serve his country “was his focus in life. He always wanted to do it from when he was young. He comes back often to visit,” Abatemarco said, using the present tense as he spoke about the late alumnus who played football and competed in track and field while at RBC. “He knows some of the wrestlers and works out here because he knows Coach [Joseph] Gallagher. He is part of the family.”
Riley, of Fair Haven, enlisted in the Army in January 2018, after attending St. Joseph University, Philadelphia, and was assigned as a cavalry scout stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. During his short tenure in the military, the private first class earned a number of prestigious medals, badges, awards and decorations. He is survived by his parents Carolyn and Carl, younger sister Cassidy, grandparents, relatives and friends.
At the funeral following the motorcade, Abatemarco spoke with the family about their late son, assuring them the Catholic community would not forget him.
“When he was lying in state, I went up to the family, who seemed overwhelmed,” he stated. “I said, “'There are 1,000 prayers for you as we speak from Red Bank Catholic.'”
Gallagher, Riley’s track coach while at RBC, had gotten to know the young man well, as had his wife and young sons.
“He was a household name for us,” Gallagher said. “My wife and sons had attended many of his track meets, and he came over for dinner. My boys drew pictures for him while he was in the military.”
Riley was a perfect example of the physical, not the theoretical, Gallagher continued.
“He had a mantra: Talk is cheap and actions define you,” the coach said. “He had a life based on action.”
Calling it “the greatest honor of my life,” Gallagher stated the family had asked him to speak at young Riley’s funeral. Midway through his eulogy, he spotted his eight- and 10-year-old sons seated in the congregation.
“My boys go to St. James School [also in Red Bank] and I really love they can hear stories of faith. I really want them to believe this [life] is the beginning, not the end,” Gallagher said. Recalling Riley’s resolute military service made his next words hit home for the youngsters, the coach and father remembered.
“I said that he lived his whole life to be a guardian, and now he is a guardian angel.”