A little Marine who spent his too-brief life battling a rare terminal disease died on Sunday, one day after he was made an honorary member of the Corps.
Wyatt Gillette, the 8-year-old son of a Marine drill instructor, was named an honorary Marine — a distinction given to a select few each year — in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, California, on Saturday.
His father, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Gillette, confirmed to the Marine Times that the boy died Sunday morning.
Gillette had Aicardi-Goutieres Syndrome Type 1, a fatal disease that affects the brain and the immune system. Most patients with Aicardi-Goutieres don't live past childhood.
Jeremiah Gillette, 29, served in Iraq eight years ago, and told People he hoped his service to his country would have an influence on his son one day.
Upon hearing the Gillette family's story, fellow Marine Anthony North started a Change.org petition to make Wyatt an honorary member.
"I truly feel that Wyatt has faced more hardship than any Marine has gone through, and for that should be given the title," North wrote in his petition. "I have seen more Marines come together because of him, and feel he has truly earned the right to be among the best fighting force in the world."
The petition reached a whopping total of 4,550 signatures in a matter of days, and Commandment of the Marine Corps Robert B. Neller approved Wyatt to be awarded with the honor.
He was only the 96th person to receive the honor since the Marines began the program in 1992, the Marine Times reported.
"We couldn't be more excited to welcome him into the brotherhood," North wrote in a Facebook post.
"He has the driving spirit, determination and love for life that we all wish we could have. Wyatt you are our hero and soon to be our brother."
On Saturday, Neller addressed the crowd at a parade deck at Camp Pendleton and bestowed the honor upon a smiling Gillette, perched in his wheelchair next to his mother, Felisha.
After the ceremony, Jeremiah Gillette took to the mic to thank his fellow Marines, North and others for coming together to make the event possible.
"Everything that everyone has done for us has been amazing," he said. "With everything going on around the world today and especially in our country, this is kind of a breath of fresh air.
"It's restored my faith in humanity, and what our country stands for."
He also took a moment to thank his wife.
"Wyatt's lived for almost eight years now. And I know for a fact that would not have happened if it wasn't for her," he said. "The way she's fought ... it's amazing what a woman can do when she's determined."
On Monday, Gillette's family was asking for donations to help cover funeral expenses.
Those interested in donating can contribute online.