SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — This Season of Hope story is more of a journey. A journey that begins on the rocky island of Grytoya in northern Norway, and ends on a dining room table in Poway, Calif., with a mountain of memories, including a 1970 Naval Academy class ring.
How the ring traveled all the way from that rugged Norwegian island is a bit of a miracle.
"That ring is pretty magical. It has its own powers I think," says Abby Pilger Boretto with a smile.
Abby Boretto couldn't be happier to have that ring. It was her father's, Henry N. Pilger, Naval Academy Class of 1970.
"Captain Easy" they called him at Annapolis, Md., a star athlete and student from Syracuse, New York. So impressive, he received his letter of recommendation to the Naval Academy by Robert F. Kennedy himself.
Henry Pilger would become a helicopter pilot and in September 1972, when Abby was only 15-months-old, Henry Pilger was killed in a helicopter crash during a NATO training exercise on the island of Grytoya. He was wearing his class ring that day, he always did, and it was lost for over 20 years.
"I do like to look at it," Abby says trying to hold back tears. "Despite the tears, I am, I can't believe I have this."
Abby never really knew her father. This ring is the closest she'll ever get. As she mentioned, it appears to have magical powers. It certainly had the power to return to her and to bring people together.
"This thing is like a beacon," Abby says admiring the ring. "It was wedged between two rocks for 22 years."
That little beacon of a ring lay dormant for over two decades until it was spotted by Hans Krogstad in 1993. His story is just as remarkable.
"Yes, it's quite an unusual story," says Dr. Hans Krogstad during a recent Zoom video call.
Hans Krogstad lives in Harstad, Norway. He was hunting grouse on the island of Grytoya in '93 when...
"And then I look down and between two small boulders, I saw this ring," adds Krogstad. "It was in mint condition because it was golden so I picked it up and it's a massive big ring."
But it's what Hans noticed on the inside that struck him most. Engraved was the name Henry N. Pilger.
"My first thought was this ring must be returned to the family," says Krogstad.
So, Hans started his own journey to find the ring's rightful owner. With no internet in the early '90s, it was a slow one researching the crash and writing letters. He eventually placed the ring in a brown envelope to the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway. That was Dec. 17, 1993. He was never told if the family ever received it.
"I used to go hunting there every autumn in that mountain," adds Krogstad. "And every time I came near to the sight, I got kind of a flashback and would start thinking, 'I wonder what happened to that ring.'"
It wasn't until this summer Hans would have his answer. Abby, about to turn 50, was going through memories of her life when she came across the brown envelope and the letter from Hans her mother had tucked away for years.
"It just sort of struck me like, 'We never said thank you to this person.' It's just wrong," says Boretto.
Abby began her own journey to find Hans, but little did she know he was still trying to find her. That's when she got a call, out of the blue, from the Naval Academy, asking if she had the ring. A man named Hans Krogstad wanted to know.
"I remember thinking, what! Huh! How is this possible!" adds a stunned Boretto.
The two have since connected but never spoken or seen each other in person. They're saving that moment for a special day. The ring is still working its magical powers.
"It's pretty amazing," says Krogstad with a smile. "Yes, it is, and I'm so glad that she made that connection with her father."
Abby's story began to get out. And since then, she has heard from her father's classmates at the Naval Academy and high school. It's as if she's being reintroduced to her father.
"I'm meeting him for the first time," says Boretto with a satisfied smile. "This is the next best thing. I get to live vicariously through these letters from his friends."
All because of the magical little ring. Connecting people from across the globe in this season of hope.
"I want people to know that at the end of the day hope is all we have," adds Boretto. "People should not give up. There's always a positive side to everything. It might take some time, it took me 49 years, so I think it's pretty exciting for me."
Abby Pilger Boretto and Hans Krogstad are making plans to meet later next year. They'll reconnect on the island where her father died, the two of them with family, and of course the ring.