Body of Air Force pilot stolen in Iraq, Franklin widow recalls getting the news

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FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – It was a fierce fast romance between 17-year-old Troy Gilbert and 19-year-old Ginger.

“We fell in love and got married the weekend after we graduated,” said Ginger Gilbert Ravella.

Even still, Gilbert’s first love -flying- remained a major part of their life.

“He had wanted to fly since he was a little boy. There’s a really great picture of him when he was on the little league team. They’re all looking at the camera except Troy; he’s looking at the sky where planes were flying by,” recalled Ravella. It was his dream.

Ravella became Gilbert’s wingman in life. As the pilot, regarded for his expert ability flying F-16s, he was thrust into the likes of a Hollywood movie.

“He was Top Gun,” Ginger said with a laugh, “He was Top Gun.”

The couple moved 11 times in 13 years and grew, and grew, and grew.

“We were always a priority to him.”

Their children were just 8, 6, 2, and the twins were 3-months-old when Gilbert was tapped for a major mission.

“He said ‘I could say no, but I think it’s what I’m supposed to do,'” Ginger remembered. “I said, ‘what if something happens to you?’ He said, ‘if anything does, you’ll know without a doubt that it was God’s will.’ I don’t think I ever thought about that conversation again until I got the knock at the door.”

November 27, 2006, Air Force Major Troy Gilbert appeared over the horizon in Iraq full force, guns engaged, poised to protect.

“There were about 15 enemy trucks that were coming after 22 special operations guys that had this crash landing on the desert floor with no cover,” said Ravella.

Using his plane’s Gatling gun, Gilbert tore through the sky destroying the first enemy truck.

“He was flying about 250 feet above the ground at probably 500 mph perpendicular.”

He screamed in low and fast for a second pass. 

“His tail clipped the ground as he was ascending, so he was within feet of making it,” Ravella said while holding back tears.

When troops made it to the crash scene, he was gone.

“They came back to my house, a second knock, and said really the unthinkable which was ‘Troy,'” Revella took a deep breath, “‘His body had been taken by Iraqi insurgents. They’d rolled him up in a carpet and had taken him in the back of a truck.”

Five days later, the Air Force confirmed skull fragments found in the cockpit matched Gilbert’s DNA. The same day a video message, mailed by Gilbert, arrived home.

On the video, Gilbert said, “I can’t be with you this Christmas, and it breaks my heart. I miss you guys, and I love you very much.”

“It was hard. It was really hard,” Ginger said while wiping away tears. “But, it was just a beautiful thing.”

The young window buried her love, but their story was far from over. 

“We have a full casket burial at Arlington National Cemetery where he was laid to rest, but only a handful of us knew he wasn’t really in there.”

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