Willy Joseph Cancel, a Newburgh Free Academy graduate and former Salisbury Mills resident, was killed on Monday while fighting against Russia in Ukraine. This marks the first known death of an American citizen fighting in Ukraine.
Cancel, age 22, leaves behind a 23 year-old wife and a 7 month-old boy. His body has not yet been recovered. Although he was a former United States Marine, he was serving for a private military contracting company when he was killed.
Cancel had roots in the area. He was a former member of the Walden Fire Department. He previously lived on Orrs Mill Road in Salisbury Mills and Green Road in Rock Tavern. His father lives in the area but his mother does not. The Newburgh News is protecting their whereabouts for privacy reasons.
After graduating from NFA in 2017, Cancel signed up for the United States Marine Corp and attended Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He served as a rifleman and was discharged in 2021. Upon returning back to civilian life, he worked as a corrections officer at a private prison in Tennessee from May 2021 until January 2022.
In February, shortly after Russia first invaded Ukraine, the Marine veteran signed up to work for a private military contracting company. After the war began, the company asked contractors to fight in Ukraine. Cancel agreed to respond. He flew into Poland on March 12 and then crossed into Ukraine.
Cancel was fighting alongside soldiers from numerous other countries when he was killed. The men who were with him were unable to grab his body because they would have been killed. Attempts are now reportedly being made to recover him. His widow, Brittany Cancel, received a phone call on Tuesday reporting his death.
Orange County Executive Stephen Neuhaus stated, “I am saddened to learn that Orange County native Willy Joseph Cancel, a former U.S. Marine, has been killed while bravely fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in Ukraine. Willy arrived to Ukraine via Poland in mid-March and wanted to go because he believed in what Ukrainians were fighting for and wanted to be a part of it.”
Neuhaus himself has been deployed in Europe since March, serving as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserves. He added, “We will never forget Willy’s bravery and sacrifice, and Orange County’s thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.
President Joe Biden commented to reporters, “It is very sad. He left a little baby behind.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki implied that Cancel should not have been in Ukraine. “Americans should not travel to Ukraine for any reason,” she declared, despite the fact that Cancel was in Ukraine working as a contractor for the United States government. “We know people want to help, but we do encourage Americans to find other ways to do so … rather than traveling to Ukraine to fight.”
Although Biden acknowledged Cancel’s death, Psaki declined, claiming it is not official. However, for Cancel’s parents and widow, his death is real.
“My husband did die in Ukraine,” Brittany Cancel, the widow, told Fox News during an interview. “My husband was very brave and a hero. 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.”