Alfred Joyce Kilmer was born on 6th December 1886 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His parents were Annie Ellen Kilmer, née Kilburn, who was a writer/composer, and Dr. Frederick Barnett Kilmer, a physician/chemist who worked for Johnson and Johnson Company and invented the famous baby powder.
Joyce Kilmer attended Rutgers College Grammar School, where he edited the school newspaper. In 1904 he went on to Rutgers College, before transferring to Columbia University.
As soon as he had qualified, Kilmer married Aline Murray, a poet, who he met when they were both at Rutgers College Grammar School. He taught Latin as well as writing poetry and working as a journalist, critic and lecturer. Kilmer’s first collection of poetry, “The Summer of Love” was published in 1911.
When Joyce and Aline’s daughter Rose contracted Polio, they converted to the Roman Catholic faith.
By the time Kilmer enlisted in the New York National Guard in May 1917, in response to America joining the conflict, he was the foremost Catholic poet, writer and lecturer in America.
Kilmer’s Regiment was posted to the Western Front in France, where he was assigned as a statistician to the 69th U.S. Infantry Regiment. He was soon promoted to the rank of Sergeant, refusing the chance to become an Officer. After involvement in several battles, Kilmer joined the military intelligence section of his Regiment. On 30th July 1918, Kilmer volunteered to join Major William (Wild Bill) Donovan in an attack. Donovan went on to found the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War. This is known today as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Kilmer was killed by a sniper during the Second Battle of the Marne on 30th July 1918. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre posthumously. He is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in Picardy, France.
Kilmer’s most famous poem “Trees” was published in his collection “Trees and Other Poems” in 1914.