LAUREL HILL — John and Karla Lacey were at home when they saw the uniformed service members approaching their door. The news would not be good.
Shortly before, they had received word that John’s youngest son, Army Sgt. 1st Class William “Kelly” Lacey, 38, had been killed in Afghanistan. He was on his fifth deployment and scheduled to come home in less than two weeks.
“The worst thing you can possibly see when you have a child in a war zone is gentlemen walking up in uniform,” said his stepmother Karla Lacey, from their home in Laurel Hill on Sunday. “It’s devastating.”
Lacey, a Niceville High School alum, was born at Eglin Air Force Base and raised in Niceville.
He was killed Saturday morning when his unit was attacked by a rocket propelled grenade at a base in Nangarhar Province. He was serving with the 201st Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Knox, Ky.
After joining the Army in January 2003 at 27 years old, Lacey was deployed quickly and then often. He served three tours in Iraq and was on his second to Afghanistan when he was killed.
“He was brave beyond brave,” his father John, 71, said. “He was out there in the middle of nowhere, in hell, and he kept doing it over and over and over ... I’m just so proud of him.”
Karla Lacey, 56, said her stepson was really proud of his service, including the time he spent as a paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
“I read on his unit’s Facebook page that a commander wrote ‘He always ran towards the gun,’ ” she said. “That pretty much sums him up.”
Lacey came from a long line of family military history, including an older brother who served in the Army and his father, who retired from the Air Force.
Karla Lacey said he always was proud of his father’s service and that was in large part why he decided to join the Army. He always said his aim was to make it to the same rank as his father, which he had done within the past several months, she said.
In addition to his dad and stepmother, he leaves behind his mother, Pam Joiner, in Live Oak, Fla.; two older brothers; three younger stepbrothers; and his wife Ashley Lacey, their 4-year-old daughter Lily, and three older stepdaughters, Caiden, Trinity and Brandy-Lynn Fahl in Fort Knox, Ky.
“He loved his family — all of them,” Karla said. “He was a wonderful son, a wonderful father, a wonderful husband and a wonderful brother.”
She said Lacey was playful and fun, devoted to his wife and daughter. He met Ashley while serving in the Army. She was in the service, too.
Lacey loved to go shooting with his dad and brothers when they could get together, Karla said. The last time he had been home was last Christmas.
Family friend Gerald Roberson, 49, remembers when he first met Lacey. He and Lacey’s older brother Patrick had become friends.
“He was the little kid running around with those big, brown eyes,” Roberson said.
He described Lacey as laid back and easy going, traits likely received from his mother. Roberson and Patrick often would be charged with looking after Lacey, but he rarely got into trouble, unlike themselves, he said.
He said he remembers coming back to visit Lacey as a teenager, he had grown his hair long and was going through a “hippie phase,” just like they had when they were that age.
Then, he joined the military.
“I think that was good for him,” Roberson said. “He was a very dedicated soldier.”
He said Lacey was one of the nicest, kindest people he ever had met, and his loss is a blow for anyone who knew him.
“I’ve had tears in my eyes every minute since I heard the news,” he said. “He will be deeply missed.”
Services will be held in the area in the coming days, but details had not been finalized by Sunday, Karla Lacey said.
She said he will be buried in the Magnolia Cemetery near their home in Laurel Hill.