Remains of F-16 pilot return home to Texas after 10 years

Remains of F-16 pilot return home to Texas after 10 years

ARLINGTON -- Ronnie Gilbert did something this week he hasn’t done in ten years. He removed a special bracelet he had worn every day since his son’s body was taken in Iraq.

“On Monday at 5:30, our son landed. Back in the states, back on soil, where he should've been a long time ago," says Ronnie fighting back tears.

A decade long journey came to a close early this week when the Gilbert family watched Air Force Major Troy Gilbert's final remains arrive at Dover Air Force Base.

Gilbert’s F-16 crashed while he was protecting ground forces in 2006 during a fire fight. The Texas father of five was killed.

But before his body could be recovered by American forces, Iraqi insurgents grabbed it and held onto it for years.

"He was their trophy, and they just kind of passed him around,” says Kaye Gilbert, Troy’s mother.

In 2007, a propaganda film surfaced online showing Troy's body, and his military ID. His family thinks after that, his remains were stolen, or passed and traded from one insurgency group to another as a kind of “prize.”

But the family never gave up hope the son, brother, husband and father would be recovered.

"I had a yellow ribbon on my front door for ten years.  People wondered why because it was so mangled and torn.  I said, 'Don't ever touch my yellow ribbon.  My son will be home,'" says Kaye.

The Air Force was able to recover small fragments of Troy’s body, which the family interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

But when U.S. forces pulled out of the Iraq four years ago, the military said it was stopping the search because those few remains meant Troy was "accounted for.” 

That didn’t sit right with the family and when they went public it didn’t sit right with most of Texas.

"We needed everything taken care of, in case it took 30, or 40, or 60 years," says Rhonda Jimmerson, Troy's sister. “The outpouring of support was so incredible.”

The Air Force eventually agreed to keep looking, and in late August of this year an Iraqi tribal leader near Baghdad approached military representatives about turning over Troy’s remains.

The Gilbert’s say a special task force worked to obtain the remains a month ago, but the arrival at Dover and dignified transfer didn’t happen until Monday.

“We didn’t know until Saturday afternoon,” says Ronnie. “And at Dover, when he came off the plane, I knew he was home.”

In December, there will once again be a service at Arlington National Cemetery, only this time the family knows it will be the final time.

"I do know one prayer I'm not going to pray tonight.  I'm not going to pray for my son to come home because he is home," says Kaye.

Major Gilbert is survived by his wife, and five children. Most of them live in San Antonio.

His parents say in a twist of fate, men and women from Task Force 160 helped pick up and transfer their son’s remains last month.

It’s the same task force Troy was bravely protecting when his plane went down ten years ago.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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