Playing soccer and hockey and riding astride 1,500-pound snorting, raging bulls helped prepare Stephen J. Wilson for the Marine Corps. So when he came to his mother in his senior year of high school and asked her to sign the papers allowing him to join the Marines at age 17, she wasn’t surprised. She signed.
“But it took the recruiting officer three visits to my home before I did,” said Bonnie Lou Schreiner, who lives in Hidden Valley Lake in Northern California. “Stephen was into this whole macho thing, including riding bulls, anything dangerous.”
The 28-year-old staff sergeant and bomb technician was one of two Marines killed in an explosion June 20 while scouting for bombs in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. He was assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 13, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.
Wilson was born in New Jersey and reared in Georgia. When he was 13, his family moved to the Northern California town of Brentwood, about 35 miles northeast of Oakland. He loved the small, rural community, where he attended Liberty High School, and played soccer, baseball, hockey and rode bulls.
Some of the traits that Wilson learned on the soccer field -- discipline and hard work -- served him well in the Marines, said his father, John Wilson of Beaverton, Ore. “What was so great about Stephen was that he played every game like an all-star, but he never bragged or boasted about his skills,” he said.
In September 1996, when Wilson was 16, his parents separated. His father headed for Oregon, and his mother moved her three sons -- Stephen, Scott and James -- back to Georgia.
“He was miserable,” his mother said of Stephen. “He missed all of his friends.”
She said Stephen wanted only three things: to finish high school in California, to keep riding bulls and to be a Marine. He got his wishes.
On New Year’s Day 1997, with his mother’s permission, Wilson drove the family truck alone across the country, back to Brentwood to live with friends and to finish high school.
His father, who had aspirations of seeing his son earn a sports scholarship, had no idea that he wanted to be a Marine.
“Then one day, I was sitting in my office and a Marine Corps recruiter showed up, asking me for my signature,” John Wilson said. “I didn’t know anything about it. I called Steve, and he said that’s what he wanted.”
Just as Wilson’s mother had signed, his father did too. Two months after his high school graduation, he went into the Marines, along with three friends. “He wanted to see the world, and he did,” his mother said.
Wilson served as a security guard at the U.S. embassies in Japan, Finland and Ivory Coast. In 2001, after he was transferred to Ivory Coast, he and a woman he had met in Finland, Linda Langbroek, were married at the home of the U.S. ambassador.
In 2002, Wilson was transferred to a Marine base in Florida, where he received explosive ordnance disposal training.
“You make one mistake and it’s over,” John Wilson said he told his son. “He assured me that he was well-trained.”
The following year Wilson volunteered to go to Iraq. When he was transferred to Camp Pendleton, his wife refused to go with him.
“She didn’t like military life,” Schreiner said. The couple separated. They had no children.
Wilson’s third tour of duty in Iraq began in April. Two months later, he was killed along with Sgt. Shawn P. Martin, 30, of Delmar, N.Y.
Wilson’s citations and medals include a Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Achievement Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device.
A memorial Mass was held June 28 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Brentwood, and a memorial service was held July 9 at Camp Pendleton.
In addition to his parents and brothers, Wilson is survived by a grandmother, Virginia Schreiner.