By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Shellie Starr has a hope and a message.
“I really hope there’s success in Iraq. I hope that Iraq will remain stable,” the Snohomish woman said Thursday.
Shellie and Brian Starr lost their only son in Iraq.
Marine Corps Cpl. Jeffrey Brian Starr, 22, was killed by sniper fire on May 30, 2005 — Memorial Day — while on a security patrol of Ramadi.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta came to Baghdad for a ceremony formally ending the Iraq war. The Marine’s mother talked about Iraq’s future and the Americans who served there.
Her hope is for a peaceful Iraq, where the vision her son had will become reality.
Her message is that we remember all of the men and women who served in the nine-year war.
“I think of all the guys remaining, and the wounded,” she said. “We have our sorrow, and what we have to deal with on a daily basis. But my heart goes out to what these guys carry inside.
“I’m trying to let them know they’re heroes too,” Starr said. “People call Jeffrey a hero because he’s dead. They’re as much heroes as Jeffrey.”
Posthumously, Cpl. Starr shared heroic words. President George W. Bush, in a speech delivered in December 2005, read part of a letter the Snohomish High School graduate had written in case he did not make it home. Starr wrote the letter, intended for his girlfriend, in 2004. When he was killed, he was on his third tour in Iraq.
“It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it’s not to me,” Jeff Starr wrote in the letter. “I’m here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not to have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.”
Shellie Starr knows her son’s vision is not fully realized, even as the war that cost some 4,500 American lives officially ends.
She is glad combat has ended, yet she wishes a larger force could stay to support the fragile Iraqi government. She believes the decision to pull out the Americans was based both on economics and the fact that no agreement was reached for the Iraqi government to grant U.S. troops legal immunity.
“I’m glad they’re going to be out of there,” she said.
Starr stays in touch with a Marine who was with her son when he was killed. “He’s now an embassy guard in Syria,” she said.
That Marine has told Starr that her son’s letter was correct as far as it went, but that he didn’t get to see today’s bigger picture.
“With all the uprisings in the Middle East, what Iraq and Afghanistan really did is open the eyes of the common people. They’re wanting more of a voice,” she said. “It may take a couple generations to actually work.”
Shellie Starr wrestles with the thought of what her son’s death means if democracy fails in Iraq.
“We have a strong group of supporters who say he was serving his country, and his country sent him there. I know Jeffrey believed in what he was doing,” she said.
His Marine comrades have stayed in touch. Last Memorial Day weekend, 10 of them came to Snohomish and stayed several days. “This was the bond these guys had toward each other,” she said.
This weekend, Brian Starr plans to fly to Texas. With his son’s Marine friends, he’ll visit another family who lost a loved one to war. And then it will be Christmas.
“Christmas kind of stopped six years ago,” Shellie Starr said.
Since losing their son, the Starrs have welcomed two grandchildren into their family. The older of their two daughters, Dr. Hillary Starr, is a family practice physician in Snohomish. She and her husband are raising their family in the house where Jeffrey grew up. Shellie and Brian Starr have moved to a home nearby.
Their younger daughter, Emily Guildner, is in law school at Willamette University in Oregon. The Snohomish mother can laugh about raising “a doctor, a lawyer-to-be and an American hero.”
With grandchildren ages 1 and 2 1/2 years old, Shellie Starr feels ready to celebrate Christmas again.
“My story isn’t any more profound than somebody else’s. It’s what we do with the rest of our lives,” she said. “He would not want his death to have destroyed us.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.