NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A United States Marine with Tennessee ties was killed fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in the war with Russia, his relatives told news outlets in what’s the first known death of a U.S. citizen fighting in Ukraine.

Willy Cancel was just 22 years old, his wife saying the former U.S. Marine was “eager to volunteer” when he signed up to work for a private mint art contractor and headed to Ukraine. In the months before his departure, he served as a correctional officer at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, an employee from May of 2021 to January of this year.

The Public Affairs Manager of CoreCivic released a statement saying in part, “Mr. Cancel served his state and his community by helping maintain a safe, secure environment where inmates can participate in life-changing reentry programs. We are grateful for his service and saddened by his loss.”

Tennessee’s delegation in Washington also reacted to the news of Cancel’s passing. Representative Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga tweeted, “Willy Joseph Cancel is a hero who represents the best of the Volunteer State. May God bless him and his family.”

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Corrections said in part, “Although Mr. Cancel was not a TDOC employee, he selflessly served his state supervising Tennessee offenders at a privately run facility. The Tennessee Department of Correction is grateful for his service to the state and to our nation. Our condolences are with his family at this time.”

Cancel and his wife were married in 2019, according to her Facebook page. He leaves behind a 7-month-old son.

A Gofundme me has been set up to help his widow during this difficult time.

The page reads:

“On March 3rd, 2022, our son, Willy Cancel, made the decision to put himself in the face of danger in order to protect the innocent. He said, “I have to do it because nobody else will.

“On April 26th, 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, NY, 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.

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