A Soldier Comes Home

Tammy Keele

First Lieutenant Alva Ray Krogman, who was killed when his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War more than 50 years ago, was returned to his hometown of Worland Monday July 19. The homecoming Krogan received was likely much different than the greeting his fellow soldiers received when arriving home following their service in the same conflict. The young First Lieutenant gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country and although he would never see the overwhelming support of people that lined roadways and crowded streets to pay their respects and welcome him home, it touched the hearts of many.

The plane carrying Krogman’s remains landed in Billings the afternoon of July 19. The last 161 miles of Krogman’s final journey was one that many will never forget.

Worland mortician and Basin resident Mike Cowan is among these. Cowan had been contacted by a military liaison several weeks before and alerted the fallen soldier’s remains would be returning to his hometown. It was at this point Cowan started putting into motion preparations to bring Krogman home and allow others to participate in honoring him. Cowan doesn’t take credit and even downplays his role in organizing one of the largest if not the largest coordinated homecoming event this area has ever seen. “I just made a few calls and they took it from there,” said Cowan referring to the different entities that stepped in to offer assistance to the occasion. “I was just doing my job.” Cowan added it was important that Krogman, who had sacrificed his life for the country, receive honor and respect on his journey home.

The mortician’s calls started a chain reaction of people wanting to get involved. Therefore, by the time the day arrived for Krogman to make his final journey home, Cowan had received an enormous outpouring of support in preparation for the event. Krogman would receive an escort from Billings to his hometown.

Cowen began his trek from Worland to bring the fallen soldier home at 7 a.m. on July 19. He was surprised when he traveled past the small town of Manderson and saw several people waiting to bid him farewell and waving American flags in support. After retrieving Krogman’s remains in Billings the procession was escorted back to Worland with an extraordinary number of vehicles, to the excess of 300. “It was humbling” said Cowan as he recalled the trip back to Worland. Every town between Billings and Worland had placed something on display to honor the fallen pilot. There were an abundance of American flags and yellow ribbons. In one long stretch of the highway, great care had been taken to place flags on the metal delineator posts in honor of Krogman’s caravan. Those 161 final miles were emotional, not only for Cowan, Krogman’s family and friends but for the many people who lined the route waving their flags with hand over heart or offering a salute as the funeral coach passed by.

The procession was just as emotional for those that joined in to escort the First Lieutenant home. One Vietnam veteran and member of the Patriot Guard Riders shared his experience. “It was very emotional. We were overwhelmed with happiness for him” he said. The veteran went on to reflect and surmise his own homecoming years ago. It was very different than the reception First Lieutenant Krogman received. The veteran was happy a “brother” that fought and died in a war he was a part of received the respect and honor he deserved.

Krogman was laid to rest two days after his return to Worland. Cowan said the funeral was attended by over 400 people, many of whom did not personally know the Vietnam soldier but wanted to come to pay their respects.