Thank you all for inviting us to be with you today on the great occasion of the championship game! Here with me representing Will’s family are his sister Anna, and Charlie Kirkwood and Linda Kellogg, who would have been his in-laws, as Will and their daughter Kimmy were planning to become engaged this summer upon his return from deployment. Will’s father sends his regrets; he is across town presiding over the Arts and Sciences portion of UW graduation, which is taking place as we speak.
As Will’s family, we have been truly humbled by the attention and generosity that have been shown to us in the wake of his death. Will joined the Marine Corps six years ago as a grunt, an absolute boot, the lowest of the low right out of high school. By the time he died this past January, he had done five overseas deployments, four of them combat deployments to Afghanistan, and risen steadily up the ranks to become one of the most well-loved and widely-respected sergeants and squad leaders in his battalion. When the news came of his death, high-ranking commanders from all over Afghanistan flew in for the memorial services; his burial at Arlington was attended by seven generals, including the Vice Commandant of the Marine Corps, one of only two four-star Marine Corps generals in the United States. Another general in attendance told us that he had had to leave early from a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in order to be there.
Since that time, Will’s legacy has, if anything, expanded. A letter he left for us to open in case of his death, in which he detailed his hopes and aspirations for his military service, has now gone around the world. Portions of it were read by Diane Sawyer on ABC news; it was quoted by Representative Jim McDermott of the floor of Congress and, most recently, formed the core of General John Allen’s Memorial Day remarks to the troops in Kabul. Two days ago, we learned that the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia would like to place it on display as part of their permanent exhibit of Marine Corps history, a rare honor indeed. Will himself would have been torn between embarrassment and pride at all this attention, but we are glad that his words survive to give a voice to others in our nation’s armed services whose lives and deaths have not garnered as much attention as has his.
But before he was a Marine, Will was a ball player. He started to play almost as soon as he could walk; at the age of two, he astonished onlookers by hitting a a wiffle ball pitched to him over the roof of a two-story house! He joined RUG Little League the very minute he was eligible, and RUG was then a central part of his and our lives till 2003, when he finished his Little League career as a member of the Senior Division team that won the District Championships that year. He then turned his attention to his high school team, playing starting catcher and second baseman for his beloved Roosevelt Roughriders. Those were great years for all of us. When he walked into the house from his last ever high school game we all burst into tears right there in the hall. He would go on to play that summer with a wonderful select team, the Seattle Bombers, but we knew those long languid spring evenings that had been so much a part of our family’s lives for so many years were over.
Will loved the Marine Corps, but he loved Kimmy more, and he had decided a few months before his death to return to civilian life at the end of his term so that he and Kimmy could start building a more regular life together. He had already lined up a job as an instructor at Division Schools, and was planning a return to baseball via an adult league down near Pendleton where he was based; in one of our last conversations, he asked me to get his old baseball stuff out of the basement and dust it off for his return. Will loved kids; had he lived to have some of his own, I have no doubt but that we would soon have seen him out there on a Little League field somewhere coaching his son or daughter in the game he loved so much.
Sadly, these and other plans will never come to pass—a reminder of the universe of love, knowledge, and commitment that we lose each time a soldier dies, or indeed anyone, of whatever cause and at whatever age. But through the generosity of good people like yourselves, Will be still be helping other boys and girls experience what he had the chance to experience in Little League and grow in the ways that he had the chance to grow. The monies you have donated to the Will Stacey memorial fund will help to foster baseball in the Ravenna, University, Greenlake area for years to come. Giving back to a League that gave so much to him as a boy is something we know he would have felt very good about, and it makes us feel good too. If any of you have ever lost someone close to you, you will know that one of the things you feel most urgently is the need to ensure that some piece of them, some aspect of who they were and what they cared about, remains behind them on this earth for as long as possible. We are very grateful to Northeast Seattle Little League, and to all of you, for helping to make this happen. Thank you.