Franklin widow waits 10 years for stolen Air Force pilot’s body

Tennessee

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – Ginger Gilbert Ravella remembers every detail of the day she buried her husband.

“It was a hard week. But, as a Christian man, he was home with the Lord,” Ravella said. “But, then my journey really had to begin.”

She had five children spanning in age from 9 to twins just 5 months old. The death of her husband, Major Troy Gilbert, remained fresh for years as the Air Force continued to brief her.

“They would come back to my door within weeks and months after all of this had happened, and say ‘ok, on Al Jazeera today was your family’s photograph.’ You start living with that fear like that terrorism could come here.”

Presumed dead, Major Gilbert’s body was stolen by Iraqi insurgents in 2006, following a dangerous mission.

“It felt like such an injustice and disrespect, and I wanted him in this country that he loved so much not over there,” she said while wiping away tears.

Years went by. “I would get notifications if anything popped up on the internet where they were moving his body or trading his body.”

The leads went nowhere. Until four years later, when a box of Troy’s belongings was returned.

“Just a piece of him, anything. You’re just desperate for any little thing you can have back.”

Inside the box was a melted camera recovered from the crash site. The memory card remained intact revealing the last picture taken of her husband.

“Look at his eyes,” Ravella said while rubbing a print of the picture, “He’s a man at peace even though he’s at war.”

Last known picture of Major Troy Gilbert

Then in 2013, seven years after Gilbert’s death, she received more unexpected news.

“There’s been some toe bones turned in by an Iraqi citizen to the embassy in Jordan. We matched them to Troy’s DNA. And I said,’ we’ll go back to Arlington and we’ll have another burial and if I have to do this 100 times, I will.'”

Ravella, and her children, buried their war hero for the second time. But, it wouldn’t be the last. A decade after his sacrifice, she got another call.

“It’s the general,” she recalled, “And he says two words, ‘Troy’s found.’ I just remember weeping and weeping. My miracle! My miracle happened! The guys that recovered him was that same Delta Force Unit that he saved.”

Then another surprise came. “When they turned him over, they expected bones. They had actually embalmed him. His boots were gone, and his wedding ring was gone, but otherwise, he was fully dressed in what he died in 10 years before.”

Finally the fallen hero would take his final flight home.

“I’ll never know what happened in those 10 years exactly, but I know that it didn’t matter because in the end I got him back, and I know all that time he’s rejoicing with Jesus.”

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