Almost six years after a Texas Tech graduate died fighting for our country, his family is still seeking closure. The troops came home from Iraq – but this hero's body was left behind, with no signs of where it might be, and the search was stopped.
A 1993 Texas Tech graduate, Major Troy Gilbert with the U.S. Air Force married his college sweetheart. In 2006 he left behind the love of his life and his five children, two of whom were nine month old twin girls.
Taking off for Iraq in his F-16, Troy was on his 22nd mission … a mission that would be his last. His younger sister Rhonda Jimmerson remembers the story all too well. A story she wishes she didn't have to tell.
"There was a helicopter down, and there were 18-22 men on the ground. Some of those were Delta Force members and he engaged because they were being attacked," said Rhonda.
Troy was credited for saving their lives as he lost his. He was flying low to the ground, lower than usual to avoid hitting innocent civilians. As he came back down for a second attack, the tail end of the plane hit the ground. He wasn't ejected but his body and seat were thrown from the plane as debris scattered across the field.
"Within hours the pictures and videos were on the Internet, so we were notified by the military very quickly that his plane had gone down," said Rhonda.
By the time U.S. forces arrived, his body was gone. Rhonda says a little of his remains were left on the canopy of the plane from crash. It was enough for DNA testing and for the military to classify him as "Killed in Action".
For Troy's family the horror and heartbreak was far from over.
"It was a year later when Al Qaeda released more videos. It was of his body. They had buried him and it looks like they had dug him up and done a propaganda video," said Rhonda. "It's terribly difficult and hard to see. It's hard to know that his body is over there intact, and to know that we don't have it."
Rhonda says for years the military searched for her brother with no luck, and just recently as the troops withdrew from Iraq the search came to a halt. To Rhonda's surprise Troy was listed as "Accounted For" and the search stopped.
"I began to ask well what do we have to do in order for him to be on that list, so that you can continue to look for him... because it's not ok to stop looking for him," she said.
Frustrated, Rhonda hopes something will be done to bring her soldier, her brother, her hero home.
"My mom especially, she just needs closure and we can't have complete closure until we get him back. Even if we just know they're looking, if we just know there is hope," she said. "We understand it might be impossible to ever find him, and we may never get him back... but give us the hope to think that somebody is still looking for him and he hasn't been forgotten."
Rhonda says she monitors the web daily to make sure more videos of her brother are not on display for the world to see, especially his five children who are now ages 13 to nine.
The department in charge of searching for missing military men and women overseas is the DPMO, Defense Prisoner of War Personnel Office. So far, Rhonda hasn't gotten a definite answer if her brother will be put on the list of still missing.
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