Local News

N.C. Marines Make A Wish Come True for a Boy Battling Cancer

Posted July 28, 1999

— A childhood wish often has something to do with a trip toDisney World, but if you are a 5-year-old Florida boy who lives near the Mickey Mouse mecca, that may not seem like a very big deal.

So when theMake-A-Wish Foundationoffered Tyler Willis his fondest dream, he chose to visit North Carolina for bigger and better rides.

"He wanted to see a base," says John Keena, Tyler's grandfather. "Most people want to go to Disney World, he wanted to meet a real general, ride a real helicopter, and ride in a real tank."

At Camp Lejeune Thursday, Tyler fulfilled wish number three -- to sit behind the controls of a real tank.

There is a good reason why Tyler's wish involved the military. When first diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, his parents tried to explain the battle ahead of him.

"The only thing that we could come up with was that there was a war going on in his body, and his response was, 'Like soldiers?' and we said, 'Yes,'" says Jill Willis, Tyler's mother.

With a marine style haircut and battle fatigues, Tyler has joined the fight for his life.

"I think it's really helped with his whole treatment to have such a vivid visualization and something he can relate to and especially being here," Jill Willis said.

In September, the22nd Marine Expeditionary Unitis set to deploy for six months in the Balkans. It is a busy time of preparation, but not too busy to fulfill a 5-year-old's dream.

"This kind of gives those marines that are here one last opportunity to see why they joined the Marine Corps," says Marine spokesperson Robb Sucher.

"It's good to see the people who are getting ready to go overseas on deployment have a heart of God and embrace him like he's one of their own," Keena said. "I think he's made some friends for life."

Tyler said that his favorite part of the tank ride was when they "went real fast."

The Corps has made Tyler an honorary Marine. He is the youngest person to ever receive that honor.


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