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Starnes grew up in Decatur, Georgia. His father was a travelling salesman. By the time he started school he was living in Atlanta. Even though Starnes grew up in the Depression he remembers his family as being pretty well off. He attended high school in Decatur and then attended Emory College. After his second year of college, Starnes was working at the local movie theater. One of his friends who worked with him told Starnes that he was joining the Navy. His friend joining the Navy convinced Starnes to do the same. Starnes was sent to Guantanamo Bay [Annotator’s Note: Cuba] for training. After spending time at Guantanamo they were sent back to New York City. They would attend school five days a week, if they had passing grades for the week they were allowed to go into New York.When they passed the Draft Act in 1940 [Annotator’s Note: Selective Training and Service Act] it was apparent that the country could be headed for war. When they graduated in November of 1940 they were commissioned as ensigns. They had the choice of going active duty or to take some time off. Starnes was assigned to the USS Boise [Annotator’s Note: USS Boise (CL-47)].In January of 1941 Starnes was assigned to the Pacific fleet. They stayed in Pearl Harbor until November 1941. They had two fleets called a starboard and a port fleet. They would rotate deployments to sea; the starboard being the sea bound fleet and the port fleet being the fleet that got to stay in Pearl Harbor. Most of the training that Starnes and the men received was geared towards repelling a Japanese attack.In November of 1941 they were assigned to take a convoy to China. On the 18th of November Starnes and the USS Boise set sail for Manila. They arrived in Manila on December 5th, 1941. Starnes was in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked. On his way up to the bridge to get a cup of coffee Starnes found out that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. They were immediately in a state of war. They were told to stay in the immediate area for awhile, which was the Philippines.

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They were cruising around Java when they ran aground in the valley straights [Annotator’s Note: aboard the USS Boise in December 1941]. They pulled into Java for repairs. They were able to get patched up well enough to be sent to India. They arrived in Bombay for repairs. They knew a war was going on because they saw tons of refugees coming from Singapore. They stayed in Bombay for a few months, joining the British for tea almost daily.They left Bombay and headed for Australia and then on to California. In San Francisco they got fitted properly for war. In early 1942 Starnes points out that the U.S. was pretty close to losing the war. Doolittle had just completed his raid and after he completed it, Starnes and the Boise were assigned to run a decoy route towards Japan so that the Japanese thought we were going to launch another raid. The decoy was set up so that the Japanese would hopefully deploy some of their fleet that was set up in the Solomons so that it would be an easier going for the Allied Guadalcanal operation.In August [Annotator’s Note: August 1942], roughly the same time as the Guadalcanal operation the Boise made a big circle route to get within five hundred miles of Tokyo. Their orders were to be seen. They were seen and were able to accomplish their orders. The Japanese did not pursue.They got back to Pearl Harbor after the decoy raid and were immediately sent to Guadalcanal. After making port in Australia they were eventually given the mission of disrupting the Tokyo Express which was constantly resupplying Guadalcanal and other Japanese strong points in the Solomons. They were given four cruisers and numerous destroyers to accomplish the task. Their cruiser was outfitted with radar, the only one in the convoy.October 12th, 1942 the Boise picked up the Japanese fleet on radar. They closed in on the Japanese fleet to about two nautical miles. They opened up on the fleet and Starnes said it turned night into day. The Boise was hit first out of the fleet. The forward magazine exploded and they were listing to starboard about thirty degrees. There were about three hundred killed onboard the ship.Starnes was in the bridge of the Boise. The communications deck was right below the bridge and that was hit by the Japanese return fire. They pulled away and withdrew because they were no longer able to sustain combat operations.

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They started back to Australia to begin the process of removing the dead from the ship [Annotator’s Note: from the USS Boise in 1942]. They were sent back through the Panama Canal and eventually ended up in Philadelphia for a three month period of time. Starnes got a month off and during that month he was married. After the repairs were done Starnes and his crew were sent to North Africa where they had just secured Algiers.The Boise provided fire support for the landings in Sicily and Salerno. They were introduced to the German "Buzz Bomb" in Italy. They were usually aimed at the landing troops but the Boise would zigzag in the water when they heard the bombs coming in. After Italy, they went back to the States and were eventually sent back to the Pacific.Starnes got orders to leave the Boise and report to San Francisco to wait for orders. Starnes came back on a Dutch freighter. Starnes likened his trip on the Dutch freighter to being on a cruise. They had cold beer to drink and could play cards at will. The captain of the ship was named Captain Rommel. It turned out that this man was the brother of the very same Rommel who was the infamous German commander in Europe.After getting home Starnes was assigned to Newport, Rhode Island to the Naval Training station. The purpose of the station was to train a crew that would be able to be immediately put onto the new ships.In November 1944 Starnes got new orders. He was to report to the USS Missouri [Annotator’s Note: USS Missouri (BB-63)]. The Missouri was in New York at the time. Starnes was the navigator on the Missouri. Starnes was a lieutenant doing navigating duties; normally it was assigned to a person of higher rank. After reporting to the Missouri, she was sent through the Panama Canal and ended up at Pearl Harbor. They arrived at Pearl Harbor on Christmas. 

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From Pearl Harbor they were sent to the Pacific [Annotator’s Note: the crew of the USS Missouri in January 1945] and were ordered to prepare for the invasion of Japan. They had two objectives they had to secure before they could invade Japan. The Missouri was sent to Iwo Jima for the 19th of February. They provided fire support for the Marines.After Iwo was secured they moved on to Okinawa. During the Okinawa campaign the Japanese resorted to kamikazes. In April of 1945 they began to launch numerous amounts of kamikazes. One day in April a kamikaze took aim at the bridge of the Missouri. Fortunately one of the gun crews on the starboard side hit the incoming kamikaze and as a result it caused minor damage as it hit with a glancing blow. The next day the crew of the Missouri gave the Japanese pilot a military burial at sea.On August 6th the Missouri received the news that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later they heard that a second bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki. Admiral Halsey [Annotator’s Note: Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr.] was on the Missouri when the second bomb was dropped. He said to only respond with force to Japanese action if it was threatening the ship. A few days later they found out that they would be the site of the Japanese surrender.Everyone on the ship was excited that the Missouri was chosen to be the site of the surrender. All of the sailors polished their sabers and made sure their white uniforms were immaculate. The went into Tokyo Bay but before they did, they took on a Japanese riverboat pilot who had knowledge of where the mines were. They navigated the minefield and ended up in Tokyo Bay. Starnes was selected to be Officer of the Deck which was always reserved for the navigation officer.The Japanese pulled up next to the Missouri and her two escort destroyers. A barge was sent over to the Japanese ships to pick up the Japanese officers. They were brought back to the deck of the Missouri. Starnes picked out eight men, four on each side of him to flank him for the ceremony. He picked men who were all six feet or taller to project a sense of dominance.The Japanese contingent was sent to meet Nimitz [Annotator’s Note: Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz] and MacArthur [Annotator’s Note: General Douglas MacArthur] and they signed the papers they needed to sign; Nimitz and MacArthur signed the documents they needed to sign, and the war was over. Starnes recalls the ceremony as being very short. 

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When the ceremony was over [Annotator’s Note: the Japanese surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945] the sky was filled with planes in a ceremonial show of power. It was done to show the Japanese the power and capability of the United States and to not mess with the United States again. Starnes remembers its being an indescribable feeling seeing the end of the war. It was surreal to him because he had experienced the beginning of the war, experienced combat, saw his friends die, and there he was on the Missouri witnessing the end of the war. Starnes remembered thinking at the time that he wished this was the war to end all wars.Starnes took pictures that day and was able to snap a picture of Admiral Halsey [Annotator’s Note: Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr.] and Admiral Nimitz [Annotator’s Note: Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz] walking past him up to the surrender deck. In 1946 a man gave Starnes a poem that was called "Hall, Nimitz and Me." [Annotator’s Note: Starnes reads the poem.]That was about it for Starnes and his wartime experience in the Pacific. After the ceremony they went to Guam, then back through the Panama Canal to New York City. They arrived in New York just in time for Presidents Day on October 14th, 1945.President Truman came aboard the Missouri to meet the men. Several of the men had enough points to choose inactive duty. Starnes believes the Navy is the best place in the world for boys to enter manhood. Starnes made sure all four of his sons went into the military.

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Starnes has thought about the night the USS Boise ambushed the Tokyo Express many times. He had a sense of apprehension and excitement, once he realized this was what he was trained to do. To Starnes the feeling of being shot at was indescribable, but once that was out of the way, he did what he was trained to do, and so did his men.At Sicily, Starnes remembers being concerned for the men who were going ashore via landing craft. They provided support for those men as best they could with naval artillery fire. The Boise was part of the fleet that fired upon their own planes who were supposed to be dropping parachute infantry in Italy. It was a nighttime incident and an entire formation of friendly planes was shot at from the sea by Navy ships thinking that the planes were German. Starnes remembers the ships firing at the friendly planes. The next day they found out that they had been shooting at their own guys.Starnes was excited to be assigned to the Missouri. He remembers thinking how big the ship was compared to the Boise. He felt at home on the Missouri because he was with men who had experience and who were well trained. The Navy took good care of their officers and it showed on the Missouri. Starnes had to assume a lot of responsibility as the head navigator.One of the most memorable moments was when the Missouri was assigned to bombard munitions plants on the Japanese main island. Starnes remembers that Admiral Halsey [Annotator’s Note: Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr.] had great confidence in Starnes to navigate the ship properly so that they were in a position to shell the correct target.Starnes also remembers having to navigate the Missouri all the way from Japan to New York Harbor. When they arrived near New York there first sign of the city was a lighthouse about fifty miles off shore. After that point they would take on a riverboat pilot who would help navigate the rest of the way.

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Captain Murray [Annotator’s Note: Captain Stuart S. Murray] was the captain on the USS Missouri. Starnes and Murray got to know each other pretty well. Starnes was twenty four and Murray was in his fifties. They became good friends.On the Boise Captain Robinson [Annotator’s Note: Captain Stephen Robinson] was his commanding officer. Starnes admired him because he could speak French fluently. When they arrived in North Africa he was impressed because Robinson was able to talk to the people the in French.Captain Mike Moran was the captain of the Boise when they were at Guadalcanal. There were a lot of interesting people Starnes recalls.During the surrender ceremony [Annotator’s Note: Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri, 2 September 1945], as Officer of the Deck, Starnes was third in control. He was privy to all of the plans that were made. He made sure his staff knew of the plans and that they were well briefed on what to do. He made sure the plans were not fouled up and he remembers it happened to a "t." Starnes remembers it being an awesome event and that he was well aware this was an important historical event. He remembers the mood as being one of exhilaration. It was very somber during the signing however as everyone remembered the sacrifice that got them to that point.Starnes remembers one of his biggest responsibilities was making sure the Japanese got onboard the ship properly. He was on the quarter deck for the actual signing that took place on the surrender deck.After the war, Starnes was on a business trip to Kansas City. One February morning Starnes took a cab over to the Truman Library. There is a special wing called the Missouri wing that had all types of artifacts from the USS Missouri. He walked over to a glass case which contained the ship’s log from September 2nd 1945. Starnes signature was at the bottom of the ships log for that day so for him it was neat to see that.In 2005 Starnes returned to Pearl Harbor for the sixtieth anniversary. He hopes to go back in 2015 for the seventieth anniversary. Starnes brought his children and grandchildren for the sixtieth anniversary. It was an indescribable feeling for him to stand where he stood sixty years prior on the same ship.

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Starnes wanted the USS Missouri to live out the rest of her days as a museum ship in San Francisco so that more school kids would have access to it. Instead the Missouri was put in Pearl Harbor.The amount of aircraft that flew over the Missouri after the signing [Annotator's Note: Japanese surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945] blackened the sky. A lot of the pilots that flew over the ship have contacted him to get his firsthand account of the signing.Starnes wants people who are researching World War II to remember the sacrifice that people made and to make sure that a terrible war like World War II does not happen again.

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