SHERIDAN — For local resident Donna Roberts, it’s a simple story. It’s also one that has impacted her life and that she’s literally worn on her wrist, on and off, for 30 years.
It all started when Roberts was working as a bartender at the former Rendezvous Lounge and Liquor in Sheridan. A man walked in and, to strike up a conversation, she asked him about a red, metal bracelet he was wearing.
“I’d never seen one,” said Roberts, now a supervisor in the nutrition and food services department at the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Health Care System, in recalling that fateful night. “At the end of our conversation, he took it off his wrist and gave it to me.”
“He was a veteran, too,” she added. “I was thankful I talked to him. I was thankful he gave the bracelet to me.”
Roberts isn’t sure exactly why the man gave her the remembrance bracelet that simply reads “1 LT A. RAY KROGMAN USAF 1-17-67 LAOS.” That part remains a mystery. What she did know, as he told her before he walked away, it was now her responsibility to remember Krogman and his service to his country by wearing the bracelet.
“I know the importance of it,” said Roberts, whose family includes several generations of veterans. “I know that boy was lost somewhere. I understood the importance of remembering him.
“I was raised with that respect, that you honor our veterans,” she added. “I’m proud of our country, of our veterans.”
The only time she doesn’t wear the bracelet ironically is at work. She keeps it safely stored at home, where it waits for her to put it back on when she returns.
The story behind the remembrance bracelet will now write its final chapter as the remains of 1st Lt. Alva R. Krogman, whose plane was shot down more than 50 years ago in Laos, were recently returned to the U.S. and are set to be buried in his hometown of Worland. Roberts plans on being there, with the bracelet that bears his name. Though, the trip to Worland would not have happened if Roberts hadn’t seen a news story while visiting a Facebook page late Sunday night. That’s when Krogman’s name caught her attention and she went running to her husband, Keith, himself a U.S. Army veteran.
“I saw that they’d found him,” Roberts said. “I can’t talk about it without crying.
“I never dreamt they’d find him. I didn’t even know they were looking for him,” she added. “Of course, I’m so thankful they did.”
According to a story by Avery Howe of the Northern Wyoming News, Krogman, better known as Ray, was a member of the 504th Tactical Air Support Squadron and was on a visual reconnaissance mission over Savannakhet Province, Laos, on Jan. 17, 1967, on the tragic day he was shot down and went missing.
Krogman’s task during the mission was to fly with another spotter plane in search ahead of other tactical jet fighter planes and mark potential targets with smoke rockets, according to an earlier article in the Northern Wyoming Daily News by Don Hall published in 1988. But his aircraft was struck by enemy fire and crashed. His wingman reported that he did not see a parachute.
At the time, with his body not recovered, Krogman was reported as missing in action. That changed a few days later and his status was changed to killed in action. For his efforts, Krogman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Award for warning his wingman to take evasive action before he was shot down, as well as a Purple Heart.
Fifty-two years later, Hall stated a scientific recovery expert was working on a crash site in Ban Kok Mak, Laos, in February 2019 and reported the recovery of possible remains and material evidence to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The remains were consolidated and identified as Krogman’s. While having tried to research the name on the bracelet, Roberts said she didn’t know much about Krogman until she started reading the news story. Quickly, the bracelet took on even more meaning.
“I had always cared,” Roberts said. “(But) it was more real. It was so sudden. It was time for closure.
“This young man gave his life serving his country. This young man was doing what he thought was right,” she added. “It’s been a long time for him to come home.”
After years of reading the few words on the bracelet, Roberts discovered more about the person listed on it. Krogman was a part of the Worland High School class of 1959, class president, played football team, was a National Thespian Society member and an Eagle Scout.
Now, there was more than a name on a bracelet for the 25-year-old man. There was an obituary, a photo. There was a person.
Krogman’s remains are set to be interned during a ceremony Wednesday in Worland at Riverview Memorial Gardens near his parents Marx and Lue Krogman, a spot Lue had reserved for him.
Roberts, who is battling lung cancer, was originally planning on traveling for a medical appointment. Instead, she’ll be at the funeral ceremony, where she hopes to place the bracelet in his casket as a way of saying both welcome home and goodbye.
“Or I’ll put it on his grave,” Roberts said, adding she’s also considered giving it to Krogman’s surviving nephews and niece. “I don’t know. No matter what I’ll do with it, it will be returned to him.
“It will be hard to get rid of the bracelet,” she added. “I can’t even describe the emotions. I’m proud, happy and sad.”