PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A local family is in pain after an army veteran died just days before Christmas, but they're comforted by his last act of heroism.
"He was a four-time combat veteran. He was an exceptionally loving dad. That ceremony that they did, he deserved that recognition."
Hanna Gradisar is talking about an impromptu honor guard ceremony in the halls of Fort Worth Plaza Medical Center for her husband, Staff Sergeant Matthew Whalen.
Service members current and past stood at attention as the 35-year-old from Castle Shannon was wheeled away to be taken off life support after suffering a sudden and massive stroke. His organs were donated to two other military veterans.
"He has put his life on the line for so many people before," Gradisar said. "I think it would mean a lot to him that it was two veterans that got it."
He was kept on life support just long enough to give his loved ones time to say goodbye.
"Matt was one of the closest brothers that I ever made in my time in the service," Sean Hatton, Matt's best friend, said. "Everything about him was for other people. To save other people. To make those around him better."
So it was only fitting that his last act would be one that saved two more.
"Matt was a great NCO," Gradisar said. "He loved his soldiers and he loved taking care of people and he was a protector. He was a leader."
for more features.