World War II pilot’s gold ring returned to children after 73 years

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - A World War II pilot's gold ring was returned to his son and daughter decades after it was left or lost in Italy.

On Christmas Eve in 1943, young Egidio Girardi and his brother saw an American P-38 fighter aircraft crash near their home in the mountains of northern Italy. The young men rushed to the plane and found injured Second Lieutenant Jules J. Hymel dangling by his parachute from a chestnut tree.

The brothers carried him home and tried to help him, but Lieutenant Hymel, who is from Luling, had to go to a hospital. They tried to conceal his identity as an American, but the pilot was later discovered and taken prisoner by the Germans.

Egidio is 84 years old now and he has held on to Lieutenant Hymel's ring for decades, but now he wants to return it. Egidio is not sure if the ring slipped off the pilot's finger or was given to the family for safekeeping, but historians say that it's remarkable that the family kept it and did not trade it in for food or fuel during the war and afterward during reconstruction. His children say they're overwhelmed and grateful to get their father's ring.

"What a wonderful story that a family in a depression, during World War II, a family of 11 children actually saved this ring to one day actually give it back to the rightful owner," said Nelwyn H. Lorio, Lieutenant Hymel's daughter.

"We wouldn't be here if it wouldn't be for these people and now we know why he gave back for so many years, unconditionally. And not (tears up) expect anything in return -- so now Christmas will mean a lot more to us now," said LeDaine J. Hymel, Lieutenant Hymel's son.

Lieutenant Hymel earned the 10-Karat gold ring after graduating from flight training in Alaska. His name and hometown are engraved inside. Lieutenant Hymel survived the war --
and later retired as a lieutenant colonel. He passed away on Veterans Day in 1990.