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William C. Stacey dies at 23; Marine sergeant from Seattle

'If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change the world, then I know that it was all worth it,' Marine Sgt. Will Stacey wrote in a final letter to his family.

July 01, 2012|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • At Marine Sgt. William Stacey’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Albright, center, speaks with Stacey’s loved ones. From left, parents Robert and Robin Stacey, sister Anna Stacey and girlfriend Kimmy Kirkwood.
At Marine Sgt. William Stacey’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery,… (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated…)

Multi-star generals attended his Arlington National Cemetery funeral. His name adorns a fighter jet. His words echo in the halls of Congress.

Since Marine Sgt. William C. Stacey, age 23, was killed Jan. 31 on a remote hillside inAfghanistan'sHelmand province, a letter he wrote to his family has gained much attention from politicians and the news media.

"It's quoted by liberals, conservatives and generals and people across the political spectrum. They use it in different ways. But I think Will would be proud of them all," said Robert Stacey, Will's father and interim dean at the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences.

The letter was intended only for Stacey's family. It was opened shortly after two Marines appeared outside the Staceys' Seattle home as Will's sister, Anna, was heading to school. Will's mother, Robin, was already teaching her UW history class. Robert Stacey said that before a word was spoken, the family knew why the Marines were there.

"My death did not change the world; it may be tough for you to justify its meaning at all," wrote Will Stacey, who left behind college baseball at Shasta College in Redding to join the Marines in 2006. Military personnel often leave behind a final letter for their families in case they are killed.

"But there is a greater meaning," Stacey continued. "Perhaps there is still injustice in the world. But there will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to his. And this child will learn in the new schools that have been built.... He will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart could desire."

"He will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long. If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change the world, then I know that it was all worth it."

Will Stacey was born in New Haven, Conn., and grew up as a Seattle-area youth baseball star, hitting leadoff until his skills took him to Shasta College in 2006. The son of history professors, his fascination with the Civil War began as a youngster and later evolved into a love of World War II history, his father says.

"He was always a good writer and a leader," said Robert Stacey. "He began to think more seriously about the military after9/11. It affected him deeply."

"He was looking for something hard to do, and that's why he chose the Marines," said the elder Stacey.

In five tours, including four in Afghanistan, Will Stacey became an observer, rifle expert and sniper. He rose to sergeant and squad leader. He would act as a combat replacement, picking up an extra tour, and he worked with a British Royal Marine regiment in Helmand province.

The kid who struggled in middle school and became popular in high school evolved into a model of leadership with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. His skills on the battlefield were captured by war correspondent Lawrence Dabney last November.

"Sgt. William Stacey is the sort of Marine that war films are made about. Unflappable, assured, and grimly competent, he is charismatic in spite of the ridiculous mustache that he and half the Corps seem to sport," Dabney wrote after a firefight documented on the Faster Times' website.

Stacey was walking patrol, checking for explosive devices so his squad could enter the area, when a bomb exploded, fatally wounding him. He was on his fifth tour of duty.

Fellow Marines honored Stacey at a memorial service. "Yes, it is a terrible thing what's happened, but Will left such a footprint in everyone's life … that it's too hard to be sad," said Edward Pricola, who met Stacey three years ago. "One day down the road I'm sure I will tell my kids about him when I talk about my experiences in the Marines."

Stacey had signed up with the Marines again in 2011 and was due to return to California and serve out the rest of his time as a trainer. Then, his father says, he wanted to head to college for a history degree.

He was building a life beyond the Marines. He had dated his girlfriend, Kimmy Kirkwood, a Santa Monica-based designer, since 2008 and planned to propose to her upon his return to California. "She was the love of his life," his father said.

After Stacey's death, Kirkwood built http://www.williamstacey.com, which has been used to raise money to help Stacey's old Seattle Little League baseball club by selling "Will" caps.

Robert Stacey says that the family has been embraced by the Marine Corps and that he has visited Camp Pendleton. "His colleagues just kept saying he was their leader, a special man among special men."

Anna, the teenage sister who "was very close to Will," has taken on the mantle of writer, penning poetry to remember him. A poem tells how he caught her as she fell toward the fireplace as a young child and how he has managed to save her again.

His fire extinguished as mine still attempted to live on with no hearth and no flame

And just like the air and the screams and the words I tasted in the air nine years before

Golden rays reached out to grasp the life that still remained inside

And he caught me.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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