A man with a colorful history and sometimes mysterious past, Marc Stella was born in Chicago, IL on June 5, 1928: Or was it Foggia, Italy in 1926? There are at least three stories surrounding this arrival and we remain uncertain which is true. He lived several lifetimes’ worth of adventures, including those during his youth that took him from Chicago to California and secured him a half-brother and new grand-parents for the children he would eventually sire.
In July 1944 he enlisted with the US Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton and headed to Honolulu shortly thereafter. His early action involved cleanup campaigns on Eniwetok and Saipan. Eventually he found himself on the USS Hinsdale bound for Okinawa, when early one morning a Kamikaze pilot struck the vessel just above the water line. After spending a period of time in the water, he boarded the USS Pitt and continued the mission to take the main island. He also invested time in other local real estate before returning to the main island where he remained until the Japanese surrendered to the United States aboard the USS Missouri. Thereafter, Marc served guard duty aboard a variety of landing craft repatriating Japanese and Korean POWs to their respective homes.
He then journeyed north to China in October 1945 (considered a second overseas tour) as part of the 1st Marine Division forces to secure multiple Japanese surrenders during the coming months. We estimate he left China in late 1946 and took a meandering path back to the western hemisphere, receiving an Honorable Discharge in July 1948 (based upon a DD-303).
After trying his hand as a fishing guide in Florida, he returned to Federal service when he joined the US Air Force Reserve Training Corp in 1949. Available flight logs show he started flying in June 1949 and continued in training into April 1950. He eventually entered active service in February 1951, but avoided dispatch to Korea due to his two prior overseas tours (see above). To get even, his CO had him shipped off to the worst place he could find: Elmendorf Air Force Base. He served on base in Aircraft Crash Fire and Rescue; and Military Police. As was the habit during territorial days he also served as a Fish and Game Warden on the Kenai Peninsula during his tour of duty.
In December 1953 he attended the inaugural police academy class and became a Territorial Police officer, moving to Fairbanks in late January 1954. He took advantage of this tenure to secure helicopter flight training and was the first pilot to serve the TP in this capacity. We can’t find the News Miner article describing how Marc Stella stopped a mile long military convoy between Forts Greely and Wainwright, but after (nearly) two years as a police officer, he embarked (or was invited to embark) upon a private flying career in the Spring of 1956, eventually buying Frank’s Air Service which became Marc’s Air Taxi Service and then Tanana Air Taxi in the early 1960s. Marc flew throughout Interior Alaska providing passenger, hunter, mail, and air ambulance service to communities along the Yukon and Tanana river drainages. He sired a couple of boys along the way, but the wanderlust grabbed hold in June 1965, when he took his flying talents to Southeast Asia where he was employed by several ‘private’ air services.
He eventually found his way back to the US, being spotted (stopped for speeding) in Juneau in late 1967 and arriving in Fairbanks the following spring (guess that cop really slowed him down!). During this period he re-entered Federal service as an air traffic controller, then wandered off to Juneau (we think) in the early 70s, where he worked for the FAA in Flight Standards. In 1973 he settled (like the white stuff in a snow globe) in Anchorage, first with the FAA then with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from which he retired in July 1988. His stellar flying career was formally recognized when he received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in July 2006.
At this point, Marc had traveled to parts of the globe many of us only know about in books…or the modern equivalent of books; or Google. He drove from Alaska (or California) to Tierra del Fuego where he invested in property on a little known island to the east, Islas Malvinas (he sold it – at a loss – shortly before Great Britain came a-calling in 1982); he flew in (or through or over or to) Burma, India, Pakistan, Brunei, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Lebanon, Egypt, and much of Africa; made a couple of trips to Russia; skinny-dipped near McMurdo Station (brrrrrr!!); and soared above the Colorado skies in a thin cotton flight suit at greater than 35,000 ft (more brrrrrr!!). Along the way, he found and married a new travel partner to share in the adventures. His Val Pal expanded his horizons as they ventured off to a few places Marc had not been before: the Russian Far East, trekking in the foothills of Mt. Everest; New Zealand’s North Island (where Val was working for a couple of years); scuba diving in Fiji; took the mule ride to Molokai’s former leper colony; and traveled on the first Honor Flight from Alaska to Washington DC in 2012.
Marc was an active participant in the Civil Air Patrol for some 65 years, though he had slowed down a bit near the end of his service. He was also a life-time member of the Pioneers of Alaska, long-time member of the Alaskan Prospectors Society, the Alaska-Yukon Pioneers, and a couple of groups that passed away before he did!
Marc was preceded in death by his first son Kolne Stella, his half-brother Ed Walsh Jr., and his sister Katherine Stella-Floren.
He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Valerie; his first wife Dorothy Stella, his son Damien (and Mary) Stella, nieces Lauray Walsh, Leslie Woodworth, nephews Carl, John, and Andrew Floren, and a healthy serving of grandchildren, great grandchildren, one great great grandchild, and a collection of grand and great-grand neice-phews. To close out Marc’s colorful history and mysterious past, Damien has ascertained he may have a couple of half-siblings out there somewhere, but Marc appears to have mis-placed (intentionally?) the photographic evidence and he appears to have come up short in a quest to find them during an overseas trip many years ago.
All are welcome to join the family for chapel and graveside service at Fort Richardson starting at 11:30 am Thursday, June 13th [please check with JBER for the proper gate and assembly time] and a celebration of life at 5 pm Friday, June 14th at the Alaska Aviation Museum, where we can share memories and tall tales, swap gossip and fabrications, and do our best to expand our collective knowledge of this ‘man of mystery.’ In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any remembrance be made to the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission or the Salvation Army, Alaska Division.