“Duty, honor, country all the way.”
That's how Art Stacy describes his big brother Bill.
“He was going to serve and do what Uncle Sam told him to do,” Art said.
From his days as a standout student at Culver Military Academy, an Indiana boarding school, Bill seemed destined to be a warrior. Their father, Bill Sr., had served in the Navy in World War II. Bill Jr. had been accepted at the Naval Academy, though the telegram informing him of that arrived the day after he'd told the Army he'd decided to go to West Point.
That telegram from Annapolis was among the letters, photographs and newspaper clippings found by a Silver Spring, Md., couple in a paper bag behind drywall in their upstairs bathroom. As I described in Monday's column, they gave the material to me in the hopes I could find Bill Stacy's family.
“He was trained to the maximum to do this kind of thing,” Art said of Bill’s assignment to Vietnam in 1965. But on his first tour, Bill wound up sitting behind a desk.
“He couldn’t come back home having done only that,” Art said. “He re-upped, and that was the last we saw him.”
They heard from him regularly, though — a letter every week.
“I’m ashamed to say I probably wrote him two or three letters the whole time,” Art said. But he was a teenager then, and what boy thinks harm will befall his invincible older brother?
Art remembers the day he learned that Bill had been killed, during an offensive operation in Kien Hoa province (now known as Ben Tre) on March 21, 1966.
“I was at a friend’s house,” Art said. “It was after school, and my father pulled up outside. I thought, ‘What’s he doing here?’ ”
Bill Stacy Sr. told Art to get in the car.
“He started driving. He said, ‘Your brother’s coming home’ — pause — ‘in a box.’ ”
They drove first to Art’s uncle’s, to spare Art — he now thinks — the raw emotion back at the house, where his mother and grandmother were bereft. After an hour, they went home to Takoma Park, Md. A surreal silence had descended.
“Nobody was saying anything. I had to go on a long walk. It just never sunk in. It was nothing any of us could ever imagine.”
Bill’s West Point Class of 1963 classmates were very supportive. So were Art’s friends at Blair High School. Everyone threw themselves into what had been Bill’s pet project in Vietnam: an orphanage in Mo Cay run by Catholic nuns.
“Bill and some of his cohort kind of took them under his wing,” Art said. “They developed a well for them. They did everything they could to set up buildings and whatnot and give them a halfway decent life.
“Then upon Bill’s being killed in action, it was a massive effort. I mean, our house was filled with stuff that was contributed. The clothing and food, our family packed it all up and sent it all over, and it was given to the orphans.”
The irony was that most of the orphans, Bill had said, were the children of dead Viet Cong guerrillas.
Art said he sometimes thinks of the orphanage. “Whatever became of it?” he wonders.
The Stacy family kept in touch with Bev, Bill's childhood sweetheart and widow. She remarried, had kids and remains, Art said, "a lifelong friend."
In 1967, Art started college at Richmond Professional Institute, known today as Virginia Commonwealth University. The antiwar movement was in high gear. Art agreed with its aims. College deferments, then a high draft number, kept him out of the military.
Time passed. The war ended. All of Bill's siblings — brothers Art and Dodd, sister Sue — wound up living in Vermont.
“Having lost Bill just brought Dodd and I so much closer,” Art said. “He loved me even more once we realized what it meant not to have a brother.”
Every year on March 7 — Bill's birthday — his parents would visit Bill's grave at Arlington National Cemetery. Bill Sr. died in 2008, Eleanor Stacy in 2009. They are inurned at Arlington, too. William A. Stacy Jr.'s name is inscribed on Panel 6E, Line 35 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
And the photos and letters behind the drywall? Art isn’t sure how they ended up left behind in a house the family moved to two years after Bill’s death and moved out of in the 1980s.
“I doubt they were left there by accident,” he said. “I can only speculate. The family was pretty torn up. It may be that Dad wanted to just leave it, to make it disappear, but he couldn’t get rid of it. Perhaps he just wanted to hide it and forget about it.
Bill Stacy Jr. was 25 when he was killed in Vietnam. Art Stacy is 68.
“He’ll always be bigger and older than me in my mind,” Art said. “He’ll always be eight years older than me.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.