Wyatt Gillette, an 8-year-old boy with a rare genetic disease, died July 31 — just one day after being made an honorary Marine.
Wyatt received his Marine Corps eagle, globe, and anchor in a formal ceremony at School of Infantry-West aboard Camp Pendleton, California. At the ceremony, Wyatt wore cammies in his wheelchair as he proudly accepted his a certificate and an official Marine Corps insignia. A drill instructor saluted the new recruit as ranks of Marines proudly looked on.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller approved the honorary ceremony after an online petition for the boy reached nearly 5,000 signatures.
"The courageous fight that Wyatt continues is absolutely 'Marine,' " Neller told Marine Corps Times on July 28. "I hope this small gesture will bring Wyatt and his family a bit of joy during their tremendous battle."
Jeremiah Gillette – Wyatt's father who is a Marine drill instructor at Camp Pendleton — posted in the petition that, "Nothing could make me happier than to see my son Wyatt Seth Gillette become an honorary Marine. He has fought harder in the last almost eight years than I will ever have to. If I earned the title, I believe he has as well."
Wyatt was diagnosed with Aicardi-Goutieres syndrome as a 4-year-old. The disease affects the brain, immune system, and skin, and it can cause seizures and kidney failure. His father began reaching out to fellow Marines for prayers on social media last month. His command staff started the formal petition process shortly thereafter, said Capt. Matthew Finnerty, a spokesman at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
Gillette told KABC-TV that he has no doubt his son could have grown up to be a Marine if he were healthy.
"He's the toughest kid I've ever met," he told the TV station. "He's the toughest person I've ever met."
Their savings gone, the Gillette family is currently accepting donations to help with bills and funeral expenses.