A hero's homecoming for Rylee McCollum

A hearse carrying the remains of Rylee McCollum passes through downtown Jackson on Friday. McCollum’s homecoming drew a crwd of thousands from around the region to honor the local soldier who was killed with 12 other U.S. service members by a suicide bomber Aug. 26 in Afghanistan during operations to evacuate Americans and U.S. allies from Kabul.

JACKSON — The remains of Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, the Jackson native and U.S. Marine who was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 26 in a terrorist attack, touched down at Jackson Hole Airport at 4:07 p.m. Friday.

McCollum’s family — including his father, siblings, pregnant wife and others — stood on the tarmac for his arrival along with Gov. Mark Gordon, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, Jackson Police officers, Teton County Sheriff’s Office deputies and others.

McCollum was one of the last soldiers to die during the almost 20-year war in Afghanistan and among the last to return to his hometown.

Several minutes after touching down, six Marines from the 2nd Battalion 23rd Marines carried his casket from the plane that had transported him from Dover Air Force Base to the Cadillac hearse that would take his remains to the Valley Mortuary funeral home on Alpine Lane.

A law enforcement vehicle led the procession from the airport with the hearse and McCollum’s family behind it. Scores of law enforcement vehicles and hundreds of motorcycle riders rode behind them as the procession went east toward Highway 89 and then south toward downtown.

American flags waved everywhere as hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people from all walks of life packed the four corners of the intersection of Broadway and Cache, and the procession route headed west of downtown.

Several people who spoke to the Jackson Hole Daily — some local, others from far-flung locations — said they were proud to be on hand to help usher McCollum home and pay their respects. Just as importantly, they wanted to show their support for McCollum’s family.

“It’s nice that people are doing this. I’m sure it will help the family,” said Jack Corboy, who has a home in Teton Village. “It’s a great loss, to lose a 20-year-old kid.”

Dina Hearn, meanwhile, stood on a corner with her flag. She and her husband, a retired U.S. Marine who rode in the procession, were in Jackson from Washington state.

“It’s important just to support the family, to support my husband,” she said. “It’s something that we had to do. I couldn’t imagine not.”

Retired Marine Roger Helle and his wife, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, arrived in Jackson on Thursday night. Helle served three tours in Vietnam.

“A lot of guys, when they came back from Vietnam, it was a totally different thing,” he said. “And I think if there’s one thing we learned from [Operation] Desert Storm, no matter how you feel about the conflict, you stand behind the men and women that serve.

“The fact that the whole community comes out, for me, as a Vietnam veteran, it means a lot to see the community support,” he said.

McCollum’s family has not announced the exact date of his memorial service or whether it will be public.

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