FREEPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A surprise for a Long Island family dealing a tragic loss this holiday.

Veteran Norman Easy died unexpectedly while traveling on business.

The community rallied together this Christmas Eve on what would have been his 58th birthday.

CBS2’s Dave Carlin shows us how “Operation Hope” saved their holiday.

A mysterious death hung over the gathering in Freeport, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported.

Iraq war veteran and medical technology executive Norman Easy was on a business trip to China and died on the flight there, leaving behind his wife Nixtia and four children.

“The main thing is to keep together to be altogether,” Nixtia said.

They’ve been waiting for answers, and to get his body back from China, since his death on December 7th.

The mayor of their village and other elected officials brought a tree, presents and food.

Not only is it Christmas Eve, but it’s also Norman’s Birthday. He would have turned 58 years old.

“Offset the mood for them, bring in a couple of gifts.” said Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy.

“Whatever we can do for you, just know we will be here,” one official told the family.

Also meeting the family was Wesley Walker, a retired player with the Jets, which was the retired National Guard lieutenant’s favorite team.

“When you think of all the servicemen all the people serve this country, it’s why we’re able to live and have the things we do have,” Walker said.

“I just want to say thank you, I really appreciate it,” Nixtia said.

This is a family getting a welcome – but brief – distraction, Carlin reported. They have questions they desperately need answered.

The Chinese government won’t yet say why Easy died.

“He served his country and we can’t even get his body back,” his son Xavier said.

The family says the hold up was China refused to release the the body until the family put it in writing that no one disagree with official findings. They say the papers were just signed, so they expect to get his body back, along with a bit of closure by New Year’s.

The family says it hired private security experts to help retrieve the body from China. They hope to have the funeral and burial on January 4.

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