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On Tuesday morning at 7:30, Bob Stacey was heading out the door of his Roosevelt home to take his daughter, Anna, 16, to school and then head off to work.

He is the interim dean of the University of Washington’s College of Arts and Sciences and a history professor.

“She was the first one to see them, and she just said, “Oh, no. Oh, no.’ ” remembers the father.

Across the street, getting out of the car, were two U.S. Marines in full uniform.

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No words needed to be said.

“We both knew,” says Stacey.

On Jan. 31, Sgt. William C. Stacey, 23, on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, was on foot patrol when he was killed by one of those infamous improvised explosive devices, his dad says the Marines told him.

It happened near the town of Now Zad, yet another place that news stories describe as a “contested” region.

Will Stacey was the 399th resident from this state killed (mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan) since the “war on terror” began following Sept. 11, 2001.

Bob Stacey is married to Robin Stacey, also a UW history professor. That morning, she already was teaching a class.

“I waited until she finished and then went down and brought her back home,” says Stacey. The two Marines waited. Will and Anna were the couple’s only children.

Stacey says it is important to his family to let those reading this know that his son was part of the Marines family.

He used words many other parents of fallen soldiers have at such a time.

“Will believed this was the right thing to do, that it was the great challenge of his generation,” said Stacey. “He saw himself as helping to defend his country and trying to make life better for the Afghan people.”

Stacey’s sister, in an email, wrote that her brother “was just one of those people who could take the most serious occurrence in the world and crack a joke. I don’t think there will ever be anybody who could put a bigger smile on my face than he could.”

“… It touches me to hear all of these things about him as a Marine, but what touches me even more is everybody’s memories of who he was when he was home, when he was just Will. That’s how I want to remember him; I never want to forget everything that he’s done for this country, but most of all I never want to forget his infectious laugh, smile and sarcastic humor. He may not have been blessed with a long life, but boy did he live the one he got to the fullest.”

Will Stacey was profiled in an online publication called thefastertimes.com in a Nov. 30, 2011, story called, “Line in the sand: An Afghan firefight, firsthand.”

The writer, Lawrence Dabney, described the beginning of a typical mission: “We were rambling down the pass from the Bedouin’s tents when the first bullets winged by overhead. Long, drawn-out whistling sounds, almost musical, nothing like the zip I’d heard in flicks. … “

This week, after learning of Sgt. Stacey’s death, Dabney again wrote about him:

“He commanded the squad I was embedded with when I ended up in my first firefight, and it was plainer than anything that he kept the men under his command alive. … He is the sort of man you would want commanding your troops, analyzing a million pieces of data to save a few extra lives. …

“He helped turn Now Zad from a scarred hell to a place where hundreds of children can walk to school every day. He brought sanity and compassion to a place sorely in need of both. … “

Will Stacey was a 2006 Roosevelt High School graduate. His dad said he struggled in school and decided to join the Marines. He began serving in January 2007 and blossomed in the military.

In January 2011, he signed up for another four-year hitch.

His son was weeks away from returning to Camp Pendleton, his overseas deployments over, and spending his last three years as an instructor, perhaps as a drill sergeant or infantry instructor, says the dad.

The son also talked about eventually going to college and studying history.

“He could have done a lot of things,” his father said.

On Tuesday morning, another person Stacey called immediately with the grim news was Kimmy Kirkwood, 23, a graphic designer in Santa Monica, Calif. She had known Will Stacey since high school and was his girlfriend.

The young couple had all kinds of plans for the future, she says.

One of them was to go to the Marine Corps Ball at Camp Pendleton to be held in April for those who were deployed and couldn’t make the traditional Nov. 10 ball.

“We had never been to the ball. He sent me money to buy a dress,” says Kirkwood.

The young woman was tearful. She says she knows other girlfriends and spouses of Marines. They all know what could happen, she says. “But you never actually think it’s going to happen to you.”

Sgt. Stacey was awarded a posthumous Purple Heart. He was with the 1st Marine Division, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

Members of his family say they are still figuring out a local memorial service. However, as Sgt. Stacey wished, he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Wrote his sister, Anna: “In just 23 years, he loved so many people, and so many people loved him, and I know that if in my lifetime I can touch just a fraction of the people that he touched, I will have lived a good life.”

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com