SAN DIEGO — An 8-year-old boy with a rare, genetic disease has died a day after being made an honorary Marine.
Jeremiah Gillette, tells Los Angeles news station KABC-TV and the Marine Corps Times that his son, Wyatt, died Sunday. He had Aicardi-Goutieres syndrome, which caused seizures and kidney failure.
Wyatt was honored with a formal ceremony Saturday at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, where his father serves as a drill sergeant. Video and photos of the ceremony show Wyatt dressed in fatigues and seated in his wheelchair while being presented with a framed certificate and an official Marine Corps pin.
Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller agreed to make Wyatt an honorary Marine last week in response to an online petition. The honor is bestowed on just a few people every year and recognizes civilians who have made extraordinary contributions to the Marine Corps.
Neller wrote on his official Twitter page that granting the petition was one of the easiest decisions he had to make as commandant.
"Keep fighting, Wyatt! You are a Marine!" he posted Saturday.
As a 4-year-old, Wyatt was diagnosed with the developmental disease, which affects the brain, immune system and skin, as well as causing other complications, the Orange County Register newspaper reported.
When the boy was undergoing dialysis last month, his father reached out to fellow Marines on social media for prayers. They started the online petition, which quickly gained supporters.
Gillette said he believes his son, had he been healthy, could have joined the Marines someday.
"He's the toughest kid I've ever met," he told the TV station. "He's the toughest person I've ever met."