Staff Sergeant Robert Cowdrey was killed during combat more than a week ago while serving in Afghanistan.
Tuesday his body was returned by hearse to his hometown of La Junta, where the community gave him a homecoming fit for a hero.
Wearing red, white, and blue, while proudly waving the American flag, dozens lined the streets of La Junta to remember the life of SSgt. Cowdrey and to honor his sacrifice.
"We had family that has fought in several other wars so we know it's important to show our support to the family and to pay our respects to the staff sergeant. And support all of those that are fighting for our freedom,” said Carrie Phillips, La Junta Resident
From city workers, to veterans, patriot riders, and children, the community paid tribute. Whether they knew Cowdrey or just knew of him, they wanted to show support.
"And stand by the family in a time like this and let them know that the community is behind them 100 percent. And La Junta is behind this man 100 percent,” said La Junta veteran Ray Watts.
Martina Phillips and her two daughters made it a priority to line the streets dressed in patriotic colors. They were waving about six flags in honor of Cowdrey. They say they didn’t know him personally, but it was important to show the community is there for his family.
“If they need us we are here. Whether we knew him personally or not, this is a community that wants to help and wants to be there,” said Phillips.
Flags marked the path of the procession, stretching all the way from Rocky Ford, through Swink, and into La Junta. A patriotic parade, residents found fit for their hometown hero.
About four members of the Colorado Patriot Guard paid tribute with a flag line at the Peacock Funeral Home. Dozens gathered around as the casket covered with an American flag was carried in by members of the Army.
“They gave their life for us, they sacrificed a lot. So it’s a small sacrifice that we do to honor these soldiers and their families,” said Guard Rider Abe Duran.
With salutes and hands over their hearts, the community welcomed home their fallen decorated soldier. Support they say is just a small token of appreciation for their hero who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"We're as big as New York City when it comes to the heart, our hearts run deep,” said Ray Watts.
The 39-year-old was known to his friends as “Brian”. He is survived by his wife Kimberly Cowdrey, and three sons, Justin, Charles, and Daniel.
Cowdrey was from Atwater, Ohio, but was raised in La Junta. He graduated from La Junta High School in 1990. A funeral is set to take place there in the gym this Saturday, October 29, at 10 a.m. The community is invited to attend.
Governor Hickenlooper has ordered that flags on all public buildings be lowered to half-staff on Saturday in honor of SSgt. Cowdrey. Flags should be lowered from sunrise to sunset.
The Department of Defense says Cowdrey was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg. He was a flight medic, deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Officials said he died October 13 in Kunar Province in Afghanistan “from injuries suffered during combat operations”.
Cowdrey joined the army in June of 2003 and was assigned to Fort Bragg in April 2006.
Cowdrey had served through four deployments and his career awards include the Bronze Star medal, three air Medals, two Army Commendation Medals for valor and three Army Commendation Medals.