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First Name: Alfred

Last Name: Kilmer

Birthplace: New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Joyce

Date of Birth: 06 December 1886

Date of Death: 30 July 1918

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served:
Alfred Joyce Kilmer

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)


Alfred Joyce Kilmer
Sergeant, U.S. Army

Alfred Joyce Kilmer was born on 6 December 1886 in New Brunswick, NJ, the fourth and youngest child of Annie Ellen Kilburn and Dr. Frederick Barnett Kilmer, a physician and analytical chemist employed by the Johnson and Johnson Company and inventor of the company's baby powder.

Joyce was named Alfred Joyce Kilmer after Alfred R. Taylor, the curate; and the Rev. Dr. Elisha Brooks Joyce, the rector of Christ Church, the oldest Episcopal parish in New Brunswick, where the Kilmer family were parishioners. Rector Joyce, who served the parish from 1883-1916, baptized the young Kilmer.

Kilmer entered Rutgers College Grammar School (now Rutgers Preparatory School) in 1895 at the age of 8. During his years at the Grammar School, he won the Lane prize in public speaking and was editor-in-chief of the Argo, the school paper. He loved the classics, although he had considerable difficulty with Greek. In his last year at Rutgers, he won the first Lane Classical Prize, a free scholarship for the academic course at Rutgers College, and one hundred dollars in money. Despite his difficulties with mathematics and Greek, he stood at the head of his class in preparatory school.

After graduating from Rutgers College Grammar School in 1904, he continued his education at Rutgers College from 1904-06. At Rutgers, Kilmer was associate editor of the Targum, the campus newspaper and a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity. Unable to complete the rigorous mathematics requirement in the curriculum at Rutgers, facing a repeat of his sophomore year and under pressure from his mother, Kilmer transferred to Columbia College of Columbia University in New York City.

At Columbia, Kilmer was vice-president of the Philolexian Society, associate editor of Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper, and member of the Debating Union. He completed his Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree and was graduated from Columbia on 23 May 1908.

Military Service

Within a few days after the U.S. declared war on Germany and entered World War I 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 redesignated the 165th Infantry Regiment), of the 42nd "Rainbow" Infantry 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.

In September 1917, before Kilmer was deployed, the Kilmer family was met with both the contrary emotions of tragedy and rejoicing. The Kilmer's daughter, Rose, had died; and twelve days later their son, Christopher, was born. Kilmer sailed to Europe with his regiment on 31 October 1917, arriving in France two weeks later. Before his departure, Kilmer had contracted with publishers to write a book about the war, deciding upon the title Here and There with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth. Kilmer wrote home, stating "I have not written anything in prose or verse since I got here - except statistics - but I've stored up a lot of memories to turn into copy when I get a chance."

Unfortunately, Kilmer never was able to write such a book. During his time in Europe, Kilmer did write prose sketches and poetry, most notably the poem "Rouge Bouquet," written after the First Battalion of the 165th Regiment, which had been occupying the Rouge Bouquet Forest northeast of the French village of Baccarat. Normally a quiet sector of the front, it was struck by a heavy artillery bombardment on the afternoon of 12 March 1918 that buried 21 men of the unit, of which 14 remained entombed.

Kilmer sought more hazardous duty and was transferred to the Regimental Intelligence Section, in April 1918. He wrote to his wife, Aline, that, "Now I'm doing work I love - and work you may be proud of. None of the drudgery of soldiering, but a double share of glory and thrills."

Kilmer's companions wrote: "He was worshipped by the men about him. I have heard them speak with awe of his coolness and his nerve in scouting patrols in No Man's Land." This coolness and his habit of choosing, with typical enthusiasm, the most dangerous and difficult missions, led to his death."

During the Second Battle of Marne in 1918, there was heavy fighting throughout the last days of July and on 30 July Kilmer volunteered to accompany Major William "Wild Bill" Donovan when Donovan's First Battalion, 165th Infantry, 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 sometime 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. A bullet had pierced his brain.

The men of the First Battalion carried Kilmer's body and buried him by the side of First Lieutenant Oliver Ames, Jr., Donovan's Adjutant, who they had buried the previous day. On 29 July, Ames died at Donovan's side while trying to protect him. He was killed instantly from a shot to the right ear by a sniper thought to be aiming at Donovan.

Kilmer also died from a sniper's bullet to the head near Muercy Farm, beside the Ourcq River near the village of Seringes-et-Nesles, in France. However, it could not have been the same sniper; Ames' friends avenged his death by killing that sniper shortly after Ames was killed.

Medals and Awards

Croix de Guerre (France)
Purple Heart

Honors (Military Related)

In the 1940 Warner Brothers film, The Fighting 69th, Kilmer is depicted as a minor character played by actor Jeffrey Lynn (1909-1995).

Camp Kilmer, opened in 1942 in what is now Edison, NJ, an embarkation center for soldiers going to the European Theatre during World War II, was named in Kilmer's honor. A small area of the original Camp ultimately remained as a US Army Reserve Center, which finally closed in 2009 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.

The Rogers Park community in Chicago, IL, named a triangle median located at the intersection of Birchwood Avenue, Rogers Avenue, and Ashland Avenue after him. The site has a World War I memorial plaque mounted onto a large boulder. A task force of residents of Rogers Park renovated the triangle in 2009 to include new landscaping and a solitary tree in the center.

The Joyce Kilmer Tree is located in Central Park. The plaque reads: "IN MEMORIAM/Sergeant Joyce Kilmer/"Poet of the Trees"/Killed in Action - Bois-Colas/July 30, 1918." The tree is located east of Center Drive at about 67th Street. The plaque is in the ground on a concrete base and is visible from the walk looking east over the fence. The location is near several other memorials related to World War I.


Shortly after his graduation from Columbia on 9 June 1908, Kilmer married Aline Murray (1888-1941), a fellow poet to whom he had been engaged since his sophomore year at Rutgers. The Kilmers had five children: Kenton Sinclair Kilmer (1909-1995), Michael Barry Kilmer (1916-1927), Deborah ("Sister Michael") Clanton Kilmer (1914-1999) who was a Catholic nun at the Saint Benedict's Monastery, Rose Kilburn Kilmer (1912-1917), and Christopher Kilmer (1917-1984).

Death and Burial

Alfred Joyce Kilmer Ames was killed in action by a sniper on 30 July 1918. The bodies of both Kilmer and Ames were later transferred from their original resting place to the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in Fere-en-Tardenois, Picardy Region, France. Their graves are in close proximity.

A cenotaph for Kilmer is located in the Kilmer Family Plot at Elmwood Cemetery in New Brunswick, NJ.

[This bio has been limited primarily to Kilmer's military service. For complete information on Kilmer, visit Wikipedia.]

Honoree ID: 2705   Created by: MHOH




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