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Fallen pilot was a hero because of the way he lived
Camp Williams » A bugler blew taps beneath an uncertain gray sky. Seven members of the Utah Honor Guard fired 21 volleys across the velvet green lawns at Utah Veterans Memorial Park. And U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot Matthew G. Wagstaff was laid to rest. The 34-year-old chief warrant officer from Orem was remembered Tuesday as strong-willed but soft-hearted by 300 friends and family who gathered for his funeral and burial.
At the memorial service in South Jordan, longtime friend Pat Hoggan recalled Wagstaff as a brave pilot who made a difference on and off the battlefield.
"Matt is not a hero because of the way he died," he said. "He was a hero because of the way he lived."
The 10-year Army veteran was killed Sept. 21 in Afghanistan. The Army has yet to release details of the helicopter crash that claimed his life.
Hoggan remembered the burly six-foot-four, 250-pound Wagstaff as something of a big brother and a teddy bear.
"Beneath a tough exterior, he had a gentle and kind heart," Hoggan said.
In January, Wagstaff married "his soul mate," Tiffany Anne Steele, before shipping out on his second deployment to Afghanistan. He also served a tour of duty in Iraq.
A tribute written by co-pilot Trina Moreno, who is in Afghanistan, was read by Katy Byam, Wagstaff's mother-in-law. Moreno said Wagstaff always made sure that those around him were safe and well-trained.
"He was a great teacher in the cockpit," Moreno wrote.
Wagstaff's roommate at Utah State University, Greg Butler, recalled with a smile a college dance they attended. After a couple of beers, the future chief warrant officer did his best dance impression of pop icon Madonna. Her song "Vogue" was played during the service and got a laugh from pals who remembered Wagstaff's sense of humor.
Butler also noted his one-time roommate's generosity and said he was loyal to a fault.
"Tiffany," Butler said to Wagstaff's widow, "I've never seen him happier than when he was with you."
An emotional Ron Wagstaff reminisced about his hard-driving and intelligent son who, as a young man, was passionate about football and flying.
"He played football with everything he had," Ron Wagstaff said. "And he was one of those rare people who has a dream as a child and then makes it come true. He became a pilot."
Close friend Angel Rodriguez described Wagstaff as "larger than life."
"Keep his legacy of selfless friendship alive. Be there for one another," Rodriguez said. "We have lost a dear friend ... but heaven gained an angel."
At the grave site, an Army color guard removed the stars and stripes from Wagstaff's coffin. In perfect coordination, the six-member team folded Old Glory into a perfect triangle and presented it to a tearful Tiffany Wagstaff.
The bagpipes blew "Amazing Grace" as friends and family placed boutonnieres on the coffin and said a final goodbye.