SPOKANE, Wash – The body of a fallen hero who grew up right here in Spokane has returned home. It's been exactly a week since Sgt. Matthew Stiltz, 26, was killed in Afghanistan, on his third tour of duty.
This morning, his wife, parents, brother and sister watched as his body returned home for the last time, in a Dignified Transfer ceremony held by the Honor Guards of the Air Force and Army National Guard at the Spokane Airport.
But this afternoon, at their Spokane home, the Stiltz' mood was lighter. They laughed, pouring over old photos and recalling good memories.
"He got down on one knee and opened the box, and it was empty," said his wife, Brooke Stiltz, 22. "I was like, ‘Where's my ring?' and he pulled it out of his pocket," she told KHQ, laughing.
Sgt. Stiltz was based in Fort Riley, Kansas, and he met his wife there. They married in 2009 just before his second deployment to Iraq. Then this summer, she saw him off for his third, this time to Afghanistan.
"I knew it was different," she said. "I knew how much more dangerous Afghanistan is."
This time, she says, Stiltz had the ‘what if' talk with her, discussing what would happen if he didn't come home. At the time, she brushed it off, thinking it wouldn't happen to them.
But it has.
She knew it the moment the Army appeared at her door last week.
"As a military wife, you know what they're there for when they're at your door," she said.
At just 22 years old, she's now a widow. She was the one who called Matthew's parents and siblings to tell them the news.
And just two days after her own husband was killed, the husband of a close friend was also killed – a member of Matthew's same unit.
"It's really hard to know that she's going to have to go through what I've been going through," she said crying. "It's been really rough.
But through it all, Brooke told KHQ she feels lucky.
"Because a lot of people don't experience a love like we did, ever," she explained, "I just feel really blessed to have experienced a love as strong and true as ours was."