Artifact returned to family of Canadian Navy pilot, 60 years after he vanished at sea

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WATCH: Family given memento decades after Canadian naval pilot’s death

Three generations of the Troy family travelled to Ottawa from across North America on Friday for a ceremony, in a development in an aviation mystery the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force called “miraculous.”

As the Cold War raged, 60 years ago, on Feb. 25, 1958, Lt. Barry Troy was participating in joint exercises with the U.S. Navy when his McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee fighter jet vanished into dense fog off the coast of Florida. The 29-year-old was presumed lost at sea, and his body has never been recovered.

One of five Troy siblings, his baby sister Sandra Berry Troy said it took her years to get over the “fantasies” that he was coming home.

“Being a teenager and still full of optimism and hope and so on, I just assumed we’d be hearing that he was found,” Berry Troy said.

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“It took a long time to get over it,” said older brother Dick Troy. “We’ve always talked about Barry, so our kids and even our grandkids know who Uncle Barry was, or Great Uncle Barry.”

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Decades after his disappearance, the Troy family received some “shocking” news. After hurricane season in 2017, a park ranger found artifacts from Lt. Troy’s Banshee near the shores of Jacksonville, Fla. A parachute strap had Troy’s name on it — and the ranger knew he’d stumbled across something special.

“Even though we say we never did forget him, I guess we put to rest the hopes we’d see him again, and this was such a shock emotionally,” said Berry Troy.

In the shadow of an identical Banshee in a hangar at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum on Friday, the Troy family was invited to look at those artifacts during a ceremony in Lt. Troy’s honour. Dick Troy was then presented with a piece of his late brother’s plane — part of the wing-locking mechanism.

“We often find the remnants of lives lost to military service on land,” said RCAF Commander Lt.-Gen. Mike Hood during the ceremony.

“But for the sea to give back after so long and through the action of a devastating hurricane, relics of a life lost at sea, I suspect, is extremely uncommon, miraculous even,” he said.

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Lt.-Gen. Hood sent a formal letter to the American park ranger and a representative from the local sheriff’s office, to thank them for their role in the story and the careful preservation of the artifacts.

“I don’t know if there is closure,” said Berry Troy. “But certainly having him honoured this way, having this recognition of the loss and what it means to everybody, that’s very special.”

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The Troys plan to bury the piece of the plane along with their parents in their hometown of Campbellton, N.B.

Lt. Troy’s name appears on their headstone with the words “Lost at sea.”

“We thought this is part of the aircraft he was flying, so it’s part of him,” said Dick Troy. “This way, Mom and Dad get it. It’s their first son, their baby.”

The rest of the artifacts will go on display at the Shearwater Aviation Museum in Nova Scotia.

The RCAF’s chief historian Richard Mayne says that’s “wonderful” news for the Air Force.

“We can tell the story of all those that served during the Cold War. Luckily for the world, the Cold War never turned hot,” Mayne said.

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“But that didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous for those brave Canadian men and women who served.”

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For the Troy family, Friday’s ceremony also served as a family reunion for three generations. Some were meeting for the first time.

And while they held a ceremony at the time of Lt. Troy’s disappearance so many years ago, baby sister Sandra Berry Troy said Friday’s event felt like the closest they’ve ever come to a funeral. But she and her brother also called the event a celebration.

“We’re saying, ‘Gee whiz, this happened 60 years ago and they do this for somebody? We’re very impressed by that,” said Dick Troy.

“And grateful,” added his sister.

“The military …” Troy paused. “Canada’s in great hands. Good people.”