Alfred Joyce Kilmer
Within a few days after the United States declared war on Germany and entered the First World War in April 1917, Kilmer enlisted in the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard. In August, Kilmer was initially assigned as a statistician with the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment (better known as the “Fighting 69th” and later re-designated the 165th Infantry Regiment), of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division, and quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant. Though he was eligible for commission as an officer and often recommended for such posts during the course of the war, Kilmer refused stating that he would rather be a sergeant in the Fighting 69th than an officer in any other regiment.
During the Second Battle of Marne, there was heavy fighting throughout the last days of July 1918, and on July 30, 1918, Kilmer volunteered to accompany Major William “Wild Bill” Donovan when Donovan’s First Battalion was sent to lead the day’s attack.
During the course of the day, Kilmer led a scouting party to find the position of a German machine gun. When his comrades found him, some time later, they thought at first that he was peering over the edge of a little hill, where he had crawled for a better view. When he did not answer their call, they ran to him and found him dead. According to Father Duffy: “A bullet had pierced his brain. His body was carried in and buried by the side of Ames. God rest his dear and gallant soul.” Kilmer died, likely immediately, from a sniper’s bullet to the head near Muercy Farm, beside the Oureq River near the village of Seringes, in France, on July 30, 1918 at the age of 31. For his valor, Kilmer was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) by the French Republic.