A former US Marine has been killed alongside Ukrainian forces in the war with Russia, his relatives have told media in the first known death of a US citizen fighting in Ukraine.
Rebecca Cabrera told CNN that her 22-year-old son, Willy Joseph Cancel, was killed Monday while working for a military company that sent him to Ukraine. Cancel had recently worked as a corrections officer in Tennessee and previously served in the Marines from 2017-21.
Cabrera said his son signed on to work with the private military contractor shortly before fighting began in Ukraine on February 24. She told CNN he had agreed to go to Ukraine.
“He wanted to go there because he believed in what Ukraine was fighting for, and he wanted to be part of it to contain it there so that it doesn’t come here, and that maybe our American soldiers wouldn’t have to be involved in it,” she said.
Cabrera said her son’s body has not been found.
“They haven’t found his body,” she said. “They are trying, the men who were with him, but it was either grab his body or get killed, but we would like him to come back to us.” She said her son flew to Poland on March 12 and entered Ukraine shortly thereafter. She said he was fighting alongside men from several countries.
Cancel worked at a private prison in Tennessee from May 2021 to January, said Matthew Davio, a spokesman for the private prison company CoreCivic. The Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a medium-security facility, is about an hour northeast of Nashville.
“As a correctional officer, Mr. Cancel has served his state and his community by helping to maintain a safe and secure environment where inmates can participate in life-changing reintegration programs. We are grateful for his service and saddened by his loss,” Davio said in a statement.
While in the Marines, Cancel served as a rifleman and was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He received a discharge for misconduct after being found guilty of violating a lawful general order, Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger said.
He has had no war zone deployments, Stenger said. No other details of the misconduct conviction were provided.
The United States has not confirmed reports of Cancel’s death. On Friday, the State Department said it was aware of the information and was “monitoring the situation closely,” but could not comment further “for reasons of confidentiality.” “We reiterate once again that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if safe to do so using all available commercial or private ground transportation options,” the State Department said.
Cancel’s widow, Brittany Cancel, told Fox News that he leaves behind a young son and considers her husband a hero.
“My husband died in Ukraine,” said Brittany Cancel. “He went there wanting to help people, he always thought that was his main mission in life.” She said her husband had volunteered to go to Ukraine, but also wanted to become a police officer or firefighter.
“He had dreams and aspirations of being a police officer or joining the FDNY,” she told Fox. “Naturally, when he found out what was happening in Ukraine, he was eager to volunteer.” It is believed that tens of thousands of Ukrainians died during the war. Other American non-combatants were killed, including a documentary filmmaker killed when his vehicle came under fire at a checkpoint and a man killed while waiting in a bread line.