MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – “Always faithful” is a saying that has been a way of life for U.S. Marines since they adopted the motto in the late 1800s. The word continues to echo on the battlefield today.
Sergeant William Stacey, a squad leader who served with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, lived and died with that motto. He used the phrase in a letter written to his family just before he was killed in action in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 31, 2012. He said he was that willing to give his life for the good of the people of Afghanistan and for his Marines.
Stacey was described by many of his peers as a perfect Marine. Always putting his squad before himself, he led them through many combat engagements in Afghanistan. Marines in his squad said his selfless acts were the reason why his unit was lethally effective and able to return home safely when their work in Helmand was complete.
First Lt. Maxwell Bernstein, the executive officer of Weapons Company and Stacey’s platoon commander during his final deployment, said Stacey was a warrior in the truest sense of the word, and when it came to the safety of his Marines, “he could be deadly serious.”
“He turned Marines into brothers and our platoon into family,” Bernstein added.
Stacey was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device for valor during a ceremony at the 5th Marine Regiment parade field here Feb. 15, for his many acts of perseverance and courage during his deployment to Afghanistan in late 2011.
The award citation specifically states an incident that occurred Nov. 26, 2011, while Stacey and his squad were engaged by heavy machine gun fire in an insurgent-infested region of Helmand province. In order to assault an enemy position, Stacey personally moved 200 meters over exposed ground, all the while under enemy fire, into tactically advantageous terrain so his squad could achieve fire superiority.
Even though he was drastically outnumbered Stacey held his ground. His squad beating back numerous flanking attempts and continued the fight for several hours.
As their ammunition began to dwindle, Stacey directed his squad out of the kill zone and back to the patrol base, unquestionably saving the lives of his Marines.
“We were taking a lot of fire. Bullets were landing pretty close to me. I kind of froze and a lot of us did at that point,” said Cpl. Jeff Otterson, a team leader with Stacey’s squad and a Buckley, Wash., native. “But he kept calm, got up, looked at me and said ‘lets go.’ That calm voice and that demeanor got us through that day.”
Stacey had a love for not just his fellow Marines, but also the people of Afghanistan.
In his final letter to his family, Stacey wrote, “If my life buys the safety of one child who will one day change the world, then I know that it was all worth it.”
"A lot of the time you don’t agree with what the locals do, but he was there for them just as much as us,” said Lance Cpl. Dustin Branges, Stacey’s radio operator and a native of Flagstaff, Ariz. “It did not matter if you were American or Afghan, he liked to take care of people.”
Stacey continued to put his squad and the people of Afghanistan before himself throughout his deployment. On Jan. 31, 2012, Stacey’s squad was conducting a foot patrol. Stacey went ahead to check for improvised explosive devices along their route to his Marines proceeding. During his search, he triggered an IED and was killed.
“He was somebody you just tried to emulate and you wanted to be like him,” Branges said. “His prowess and skill at his job is what gave him his confidence, and you wanted to just be like that. All of us did.”
His friends agree that Stacey embodies the principles a Marine should live and die by.
He closed his final letter with a quote that his fellow Marines understand very well: “Semper Fidelis means always faithful. Always faithful to God, country and Corps. Always faithful to the principles and beliefs that guided me into service.”