PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — After his flag-draped coffin was carried into St. Ann Church in Castle Shannon, Fr. Mike Caridii said it was an honor to preside over the funeral Mass for Sgt. Matthew Whalen.
He said Sgt. Whalen represented the best from the community. That’s how Patricia Strack wants her son to be remembered.
“He had that intoxicating smile,” she said. “He helped everyone. He was such a good son and a good man.”
The 35-year-old sergeant died from a brain bleed following a stroke on Dec. 20. He served four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sgt. Major Jeremy Gephardt says Sgt. Whalen was a team leader in his platoon during some difficult times in 2005.
“He was the guy who kept the spirits of the platoon up,” Gephardt said. “He was the one that — no matter how bad the situation got, he was the one that ensured everybody’s spirits were up, stayed together as a team.”
When he was taken off life support at the Fort Worth Plaza Medical Center, a video was shot of an impromptu honor guard ceremony. Service members past and present stood at attention as his body was wheeled through the hallway.
The video was meant for men and women who served with Sgt. Whalen, but it went viral and has now been viewed more than 10 million times. It has given his mother the comfort and support needed to get through this loss.
“Yeah, that’s what’s getting me through this,” she said. “It’s very, very difficult to bury a child. Just everything, the people, the love from everyone is overwhelming. I knew my son was a great man, but this honor is overwhelming on everything that has happened.”
Strack has received condolences from people all over the world. She says her son’s organs were donated, and he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She plans to become an advocate.
“He’s probably saying, ‘Geez, Mom,’ but he deserved this,” she said. “He really deserved this.”
Sgt. Whalen leaves a wife and four children behind. He was buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.