A former Orange County resident and Walden Volunteer Firefighter is the first known American casualty of the war in Ukraine.
Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, was killed Monday while working for a military contracting company that sent him to Ukraine, CNN reported on Friday.
“On March 3, 2022, our son, Willy Cancel, made the decision to put himself in the face of danger in order to protect the innocent,” the family posted on a GoFundMe page. “He said, “I have to do it because nobody else will.’”
“On April 26, his wife got the worst call of her life, ‘Your husband fought bravely but unfortunately he did not make it.’ He was just 22 years old. In his short life he chose time and time again to be a true hero: he was an infantry United States Marine Corps (USMC), a volunteer fireman in Walden, a prison guard, a father, a son, a brother, and so much more. Our entire family is simply distraught and we have no idea how to continue.”
Cancel served in the Marines from 2017-21, joining the service the same year he graduated from high school. While in the Marines, he served as a rifleman and was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Following his discharge, he worked as a correctional officer in Tennessee. He arrived in Ukraine via Poland in mid-March.
He leaves behind wife, Brittany, also a former Marine, and a seven-month-old son.
”We will never forget Willy’s bravery and sacrifice, and Orange County’s thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time,” said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, a Navy reservist currently on active duty in Europe.
“We will never forget the patriotism and valor Willy Cancel exemplified in the face of extreme adversity, fighting for the freedom and future of others,” Assemblyman Colin J. Schmitt said. “Willy’s death is a tragedy beyond belief, dying a hero who had his whole life ahead of him. I send my deepest condolences to Willy’s loved ones, including his wife, Brittany Cancel, who is a Cornwall graduate, and his 7-month-old son, Anthony. Further, this represents the senseless consequences of the crisis in Ukraine and it is critical now more than ever that we present a united front.”
The family started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help raise funds for the family’s expenses. As of Tuesday afternoon, it has raised close to $78,000.
“So we are starting this fundraiser to help Willy’s family and alleviate some of the financial burden that Brittany, now a widow and single mother, is facing at the young age of 22,” the family said. “She lost her rock, her best friend, her partner and Anthony’s father. And while babies are expensive, Anthony deserves to have the necessities. He will grow up without a father, a father who was brave and selfless and whose life was senselessly lost. While he will grow knowing that his father died a hero, we know this will not be easy. No parent should ever have to bury their child, and no child should have to grow up without a parent. We graciously ask for any help possible to help support Willy’s wife and son, any donations offered are deeply appreciated. We thank you for your support in this extremely difficult time.”
To donate, visit the gofundme.com.