BIDDEFORD – Roland Pelletier Jr. was a decorated Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam and received numerous commendations for his service, including the Bronze Star Medal.
A retired first sergeant with 20 years of service, he had spent the past five years helping Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans from Maine who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries.
Mr. Pelletier, a longtime volunteer in the Biddeford public schools, died unexpectedly Sunday. He was 63.
Mr. Pelletier also was a volunteer in the Wounded Heroes Program of Maine in Saco. The organization serves wounded troops in their transition from military to civilian life. Pam Payeur, executive director of the program, said Pelletier worked closely with veterans who had PTSD or traumatic brain injuries.
“He took these young men and women under his wing,” Payeur said. “They all speak the same language and civilians don’t. They need someone who’s been there and understands their struggle. That was Roland.”
Mr. Pelletier met often with local veterans to listen and counsel them. Payeur said the veterans who worked closely with him are “heartbroken” at his passing.
“He was a trusted brother,” she said. “It’s such a hard loss. They have lost too many of their brothers already. To have lost someone that they have been leaning on is especially hard. They have found strength from him.”
Mr. Pelletier also was an outspoken advocate for Biddeford’s public schools. He volunteered at the city’s John F. Kennedy School and Biddeford Intermediate School.
On Tuesday, teachers from both schools gave a snapshot of his efforts to help students and the district as a whole. One teacher said he regularly donated school supplies and replaced old and tattered American flags. Another teacher said he shared his experiences in the military in the classroom, and educated kids about patriotism and the American flag. For many years, he chaperoned a group of special-needs students who swam once a week at the YMCA.
“He knew there were a lot of kids suffering and he wanted to make their day brighter in any way he could,” said Trisha LaFountain, a special educator at Biddeford Intermediate School. “He really believed in this community and wanted the best for the students and the staff. He’s the type of person who sees a need and does something about it.”
Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, who is also the city’s mayor and school board chairman, said Mr. Pelletier attended all major City Council and school board meetings, and many in between. Casavant said Mr. Pelletier was quick to share his thoughts on an issue and urge a fair expenditure of funds for the maintenance of city programs.
“Roland had an incredibly big heart,” Casavant said. “He was very passionate about his community and was always willing to help out. It’s a huge loss for the community. There aren’t too many Roland Pelletiers around.”
He was the husband of Valerie Pelletier for 43 years. In addition to his wife, he leaves three children and four grandchildren.
Mr. Pelletier’s daughter, Melissa Pelletier Provencher of Biddeford, emphasized his love for his grandsons. She said he enjoyed playing and interacting with them.
“They were his whole world,” Provencher said. “It’s going to be very hard on them. The kids loved him. He was a very important part of their lives. I hope they remember him.”
Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: