Marine veteran Willy Joseph Cancel has become the first American to die in Ukraine, fighting side-by-side with Ukrainians trying to repel Russian invaders.
Cancel, 22, was killed Monday, according to CNN.
“My husband did die in Ukraine,” said Brittany Cancel, Cancel’s widow, according to Fox News. “He went there wanting to help people; he had always felt that that was his main mission in life.”
“My husband was very brave and a hero,” Cancel said. “I did not expect to be a widow at 23 years old or for our son to be without a father. All I want is for him to come home, and to give him the proper burial he deserves.”
In addition to his widow, Cancel leaves behind a 7-month-old son.
"My husband was very brave and a hero," says wife of U.S. citizen Willy Joseph Cancel, who was killed in Ukraine while fighting alongside Ukrainian troops against invading Russian forces. https://t.co/GFcpujjxPG pic.twitter.com/rqUWA1lqxN
— ABC News (@ABC) April 29, 2022
Cancel’s mother, Rebecca Cabrera, said her son worked for a private military contractor who issued a call for those interested to fight in Ukraine. Cancel responded and entered Ukraine around March 13, she said.
“He wanted to go over because he believed in what Ukraine was fighting for, and he wanted to be a part of it to contain it there, so it didn’t come here, and that maybe our American soldiers wouldn’t have to be involved in it,” Cabrera said, according to CNN.
Brittany Cancel said her husband wanted to help others.
“Prior to wanting to help the effort in Ukraine, he was a detention officer in Kentucky,” the widow told Fox News. “He had dreams and aspirations of being a police officer or joining FDNY. Naturally when he found out about what was happening in Ukraine, he was eager to volunteer.”
Former US Marine Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, is killed fighting In Ukraine as a private security contractor from New York. He leaves behind a wife and seven-month old boy. pic.twitter.com/2kNjUhFBU0
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) April 29, 2022
Cabrera had no information about the military action in which her son was killed.
“They haven’t found his body,” she said, CNN reported. “They are trying, the men that were with him, but it was either grab his body or get killed, but we would love for him to come back to us.”
Cancel, originally from Orange County, New York, was living in Tennessee, Devin Tietze Jr., Cancel’s brother-in-law, said.
Cancel was the “type to fight for what’s right regardless of the outcome,” Tietze said.
BREAKING: An American citizen, Willy Joseph Cancel, was killed this week fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in Ukraine, members of Cancel's family confirmed to CNN. @EllieCKaufman https://t.co/0fYFl34KPz
— CNN NationalSecurity (@NatSecCNN) April 29, 2022
“He believed wholeheartedly this shouldn’t have happened, and he wanted to go help the people in Ukraine,” Tietze said.
Cabrera said her son was “the man that stood up when everybody else stood back.”
“It was something that he believed in his heart, that was the right thing. He was the type of man who always stepped up when everybody else stepped back, and there were a lot of men who were like that that were with him,” Cabrera said.