SALT LAKE CITY — At the tail end of the Vietnam War in 1975, now-retired Sgt. Patti Imbholm enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
“I entered the Marine Corps in 1975, went through Military Police school in Alabama,” she said. “I was stationed as a Military Police in Marine Corps Air Station Santa Ana California of the Third Marine Air Wing.”
Imbholm served for several years until being honorably discharged. and finding her way to the University of Utah, where she would work for several decades after graduating.
In a ceremony at Rice-Eccles Stadium Tuesday, she was informed that she would be given a service dog free of charge thanks to the American Warrior Initiative and Fairway Mortgage.
“I have to say it's the highest honor in my life to receive this service dog,” Imbholm said, getting choked up about her new furry friend.
This companion is thanks to another Utahn who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country: Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover.
WATCH: Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery
With the room erupting into applause, the announcement was made that the service dog was given to Imbholm in honor of Hoover.
Those who put together the event say gifting a service dog in the name of someone who died defending our country is the least they can do.
Hoover’s family and friends were also honored at Tuesday's event with a blanket and patch for their loved one's sacrifice.
Hoover’s mother, Kelly Henson, told FOX 13 he had a service dog himself, who brought him through “some pretty dark times."
"I know that right now, he's 100% happy and very proud of this event, because he knows — and I know — what it means to a veteran to have a dog and how much they do help," Henson added.
Hoover's best friend, who works for Fairway Mortgage, said knowing that a puppy is a part of Hoover's legacy is very meaningful.
“Just to know that there's a little piece of my friend running around Salt Lake City, it brings comfort to me,” Kayleigh White said. "He's not with me, but his name is.”
White was very happy about being able to help Imbholm.
“We are now just being able to comfort her with a little companion that can bring her some life," she said.
“It brightens my day and makes me feel like I can keep going because of people like Patti," Henson added.
In addition to Imbholm, 13 other dogs were given to retired service members and veterans in need across the country Tuesday over Zoom — each of them in honor of one of the 13 service members who died in a suicide bombing in Kabul during the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.
“It’s just amazing. It's hard for me to find words,” Imbholm said about receiving the honor. “Thirteen service people that lost their lives, and to be here with a Gold Star family was just amazing, and I just want to make them proud.”
Aside from companionship and the “love and affection” from a dog that she looks forward to, there’s a more important function the dog will serve.
Imbholm is now legally blind, and a service dog will help her gain her freedom back.
“The dog will guide me, you know,” she said. "Anywhere I want to go, I'll have independence.”
For the family of Hoover, that comfort brings them happiness, even without their loved one this holiday season.
"My son's death was not in vain... He died for these good people,” Henson said. “It makes my heart happy.”