FORT KNOX, Ky. (AP) — A 16-year-old Belgian boy with cancer, who listened to his grandfather tell stories about U.S. troops during World War II, has gotten a chance to be one of those soldiers.
The Courier-Journal and The News-Enterprise report Antoine Brisbois was at Fort Knox on Tuesday for the first of a two-day visit that includes working alongside soldiers and training. Brisbois, who developed bone cancer at age 12, was able to make the visit through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which worked with the U.S. Army to coordinate it.
During his first day at the central Kentucky Army post, he rode in an armored truck while dressed in full combat gear, fired blanks alongside a 3rd Brigade combat unit in training and disarmed explosives.
He said fulfilling his dream made him "extremely happy."
His mother, Isabelle Francois, wiped away tears as she watched.
"It's his dream. He has gone through very hard and painful moments," she said in French through an interpreter. "He has been courageous just like a real soldier."
Antoine beamed as he declared it "an honor to wear the uniform" before he shook hands with several soldiers and officers.
"This is a first," said Sgt. First Class Anthony Roszko, who helped coordinate the event. "Most times you hear of people dreaming to be a professional athlete or something. When we heard that his wish was being a soldier, we jumped at the opportunity to help. We're very honored."
Make-A-Wish Foundation spokeswoman Emily Denholm also said the wish was unusual.
Antoine's family sent a letter to the organization almost three years ago describing why he wanted it.
His grandfather told him stories about how the Germans occupied Belgium, and the battles that led to the country being liberated at the hands of the U.S. Army.
"He saw the arrival of the Americans," Francois said.
The stories made a mark on the boy, who remained fascinated with the subject matter as he grew.
"Since he was a little child, all he talked about was the U.S.A. and the military," Francois said.
On Wednesday, the Army planned to allow Antoine to sit in an Apache helicopter, meet post commanders and receive an honorary commission as an Army lieutenant, said Col. Ed Box.
"I had only seen this in books. Now I really see," Antoine said. "I'm extremely happy."