- Associated Press - Monday, July 27, 2015

July 27—LAUREL HILL — The family of the late Army Sgt. First Class William “Kelly” Lacey, who was killed in Afghanistan 18 months ago, thought they had already experienced all the text book stages of grief. But a chance inquiry last week sent Lacey’s stepmother, Karla, and his widow, Ashley, back into that dark spiral once again.

It all began when Karla and her husband — Kelly’s father, John Lacey — stopped by the Okaloosa County Courthouse in Crestview and noticed the black onyx memorial to the county’s war dead that stands nearby.

“I was familiar with the memorial, and had been meaning to find out how we would go about having Kelly’s name added to it,” Karla said. “When we got home, I looked it up on the Internet and found the number of the person who’s in charge of the foundation that runs it.”

After playing phone tag for a bit, Karla heard back from Bob Lynn, who along with the late Crestview Mayor George Whitehurst spearheaded the campaign to build the memorial starting in 2000. To Karla’s dismay, Lynn told her that Kelly, an Okaloosa County native and graduate of Niceville High School, was not eligible to be included on the wall.

“He said there were three criteria — that the person had to be born in Okaloosa County, had to have been killed in action, and had to have trained at Eglin, Hurlburt or Duke Field,” she said. “He said that even though Kelly was born and raised here, he didn’t qualify, because he hadn’t trained here. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I had been slapped in the face.”

When Karla shared the news with Ashley, the young widow — herself an Army veteran — was devastated.

“I felt like I was grieving all over again,” she said. “First I was shocked, then I was sad, and then I was angry.”

Ashley said she chose to live in Okaloosa County with her 4-year-old daughter, Lily, after Kelly died because of the incredible support the community had shown her.

“I’ll never forget the day when we brought his remains home to rest here in Laurel Hill,” she recalled. “I was so overwhelmed when I saw all the people lined up along the streets and on the overpasses, waving flags. But then to find out that the same community wouldn’t allow him to be included on their war memorial just made me feel heartbroken. My daughter and my future grandchildren will never get to know my husband, but if his name was on that wall, I’d be able to take them to see it.”

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(c)2015 Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)

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