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Local family remembers man killed in Iraq

| Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2004

John Mallery was working a desk job for a mortgage company in Pittsburgh last year when he heard about a job opening in Iraq. Four days later, the Mt. Lebanon High School graduate was on a plane to Baghdad.

"He liked living on the edge," his mother, Cathleen, said Monday.

Mallery, 28, was killed Saturday when a two-car convoy in which he was riding was ambushed outside of the city of Taji, his relatives said. Mallery was as a logistics coordinator for a company that supplies military bases in Iraq, where he'd been working on and off since June 2003.

Mallery understood the dangers of driving between the military bases, which he would supply with everything from toilet paper to trailers, his mother said.

He often drove his company BMW at speeds in excess of 100 mph across dusty roads, said his brother-in-law, Nestor Gonzales, who went to work in Iraq with Mallery last year.

"It was like the Wild West out there, and he loved it," Gonzales said.

Mallery's boss, MayDay Supply President Jonathan May, called relatives over the weekend to report the death. A call from an Iraqi consulate official early Sunday confirmed the news, Cathleen Mallery said.

John Mallery was riding in a company truck with an Iraqi bodyguard in a two-car convoy about 35 miles northwest of Baghdad, May said.

Gunmen riding in separate vehicles attacked Mallery's vehicle, killing Mallery and seriously injuring his bodyguard. Riders in the other vehicle escaped, picking up the bodyguard, who likely will survive, May said.

Gonzales said his brother-in-law was shot five times, the first shot killing him after piercing the flak jacket he wore.

Gonzales, 34, first met Mallery when the two worked at Lidia's Pittsburgh restaurant in the Strip District. They eventually became family when Gonzales married Mallery's sister, Karen.

The motive of the killing was unknown. May said the Army is investigating.

"John was an American -- that's all that it takes," May said.

Calling the Mallery family late Saturday was "the most difficult thing I've had to do in my life," he said.

"John did everything. He was a salesperson, a driver, a chef, he cooked for us, he entertained us. I cannot express how much he will be missed," May said.

Mallery had traveled the main north-south road out of Baghdad many times to Camp Anaconda, near Balal. "That was his base. He delivered everything to them and he enjoyed it," May said.

Cathleen Mallery said her son, who was prevented from joining the military because of asthma, believed in the work he was doing.

"He told (us) not to believe everything we'd heard because he saw improvements," she said. "When I would ask him about the insurgents, he'd say these people shame the normal Iraqi citizen. They had lived under the thumb of Saddam Hussein for so long."

Mallery told his mother the war and subsequent military occupation of Iraq was improving life there.

"He wanted to be a part of that. He liked it," she said.

Cathleen Mallery said her son knew well the dangers Americans faced in Iraq. He told her about two close calls. In one incident, the windows of his camp trailers were knocked out by shelling. In another, a guard threw him onto the ground to protect him from small arms fire.

These stories were subtle admissions that he understood the danger he lived under, she said.

"He would never say, 'Mom, I'm scared to death,' " she said.

Mallery attended Canon-McMillan High School before transferring to Mt. Lebanon High School his senior year, graduating in 1994. He worked in restaurants as a wine expert and did office work before signing on for a four-month stint for Selrico, a military food supply contractor in Iraq, relatives said.

Gonzales said he saw Mallery for the last time in Mallery's trailer in Baghdad three weeks ago. The two had scotch and Cuban cigars before Gonzales left to return to the United States, Gonzales said.

The two men shared similar reasons for going to Iraq, he said.

"It was something different, something new. We felt we'd be making a difference. We really enjoyed it there. We liked the people," Gonzales said. "I know, speaking for John, it broke our hearts to see people could be so downtrodden."

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