By Roxanne Baker
EJ Stark arrived at the New York Harbor in 1953 at just two years old. As Hungarian refugees, he and his family had just a few belongings, but were in pursuit of the American dream.
Fast forward 17 years, and Stark had raised his right hand in an oath to protect this country and placed his boots on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
“There was always part of me that felt I owed something to this country,” Stark said.
Stark spent his childhood in Milwaukee and saw the other German and Hungarian immigrants in his community work hard to own their own businesses. His father attended night school and became an electrician. Stark came from a long line of farmers and knew it was a “simple twist of fate” that he could now choose to be whatever he wanted.
“We came from a communist country, a place with slim liberties,” Stark said. “But here the sky is the limit. This is the American dream and it is the land of opportunity.”
Stark enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1970 and was slated with the MOS 2851 of aviation radio repair. After training, his squadron was stationed in Okinawa starting in January 1972. From there he crisscrossed to countless countries for usually a few weeks at a time to fix radios. He supported the First Marine Aircraft Wing and Third Marine Division. He spent a year overseas and returned to the United States in February of 1973. He then ended his Marine Corps career that Fall in Cherry Point, North Carolina as a sergeant.
Stark used his G.I. Bill to attend the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He earned a criminal justice degree and graduated magna cum laude. His first job out of college was an insurance adjuster and he worked his way up the insurance ladder. He retired last year as the vice president of casualty claims of Wausau Insurance Companies, which was bought by Liberty Mutual Insurance—a Fortune 100 Company.
Throughout his career, Stark brought the moral standards and the leadership lessons he learned in the Marine Corps to the private sector.
“The Marine Corps is my moral compass and it has grounded me,” Stark said. “I learned leadership and how to make teams by being part of a big team.”
He always reminded himself of P.I.G., an acronym from bootcamp meaning pride, integrity and guts.
“Becoming a Marine has remained the greatest achievement of my life,” Stark said. “It’s all about courage. I’ve tried to live that way and have the courage to do the right thing even though the right decision may not always be the easy one.”
Stark will continue that credo as he runs as a trustee for the Village of Rothschild and for the board of supervisors for Marathon County in Wisconsin.
It’s why he gives to the Marine Corps Association Foundation (MCAF)—to pass on the moral and leadership necessities to the next generation of Marines. Throughout both his Marine Corps and civilian careers, other Marines always helped him through small and big gestures. He now pays it forward to young guns by sending care packages overseas, writing letters to recruits in bootcamp, and supporting active-duty Marines through MCAF.
“Education, along with hard work, is the key to success,” Stark said of today’s Marines.
“Being a Marine always meant taking care of other Marines. We stick together.”
. . . and give Marines born overseas and on native soil a shot to define their own American dream.