By Brian Kelly and Sharon Salyer / Herald Writers
A Snohomish Marine just three weeks away from finishing his third tour in Iraq was killed Memorial Day by small-arms fire, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
Marine Corps Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr, 22, died early May 30 during combat operations near Ramadi.
Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald
Marine Corps Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr, 22, of Snohomish was killed Monday during combat operations in Iraq.
A section leader in charge of 12 Marines, Starr was an assaultman assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Starr was planning on getting out of the Marines at the end of his enlistment and had already enrolled in classes at Everett Community College. He was due home at the end of June, said his father, Brian Starr.
Shellie Starr, his mother, said she was getting ready for him to move back home and live in the basement apartment of the family’s home outside Snohomish.
“I had just given our tenants notice. And I was measuring where I was going to put things,” she said.
Cpl. Starr was nearing the end of his third tour in Iraq.
The family and friends of Marine Corps Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr set up a small memorial on the family’s coffee table celebrating his life both in and out of the Marine Corps.
He joined the military in March 2001, before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It was a different world then,” his mother said.
The family wasn’t worried about his safety; they figured he would get the training he wanted and would then get out.
“The worrying started when Jeff was deployed to Kuwait in February ‘03,” Brian Starr said.
Starr’s Marine battalion was the first to enter Iraq when the war started, his father said, sent to seize the oil fields at Rumallah. His unit marched onward to Baghdad, and Starr and his fellow soldiers came home to Camp Pendleton in time for his 20th birthday in late May.
When he was deployed to Okinawa, Japan, in December 2003, his unit was again sent back to Iraq for the impending assault on Fallujah after four American contractors were killed.
Other locals who have died in the war in Iraq:
– Marine Cpl. Steven A. Rintamaki, 21, of Lynnwood died Sept. 16 in military action in Anbar province.
– U.S. Marines machine gunner Cody Calavan, 19, of Lake Stevens was killed May 29, 2004, in an explosion.
– Justin W. Hebert, 20, of Silvana died Aug. 1, 2003, when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Humvee he was driving.
– Also killed was Mariner High School graduate Todd Drobnick, 35, who worked for San Diego defense contractor Titan Corp.
“We had absolutely no idea what he was going through,” Brian Starr said. That changed, Starr recalled, when he later heard a radio interview on National Public Radio. His son’s company commander told about an incident where 20 Marines were caught behind enemy lines. The family thought Jeff may have been in the group.
“He called that next Sunday morning and said, ‘Mom, did you hear about those Marines who got behind enemy lines? I was one of them,’” his father recalled.
Jeffrey Starr’s armored vehicle had been hit with several rocket-propelled grenades. And when his son found cover with his fellow Marines in a house, he later told his dad he made his peace with God when he went up to the room amid a rain of grenades.
The Marines were able to fend off the attack until help came, however.
“They literally fought off several hundred insurgents, and were down to their last rounds of ammunition before the rescue came,” Brian Starr said.
It was one big break among many.
“He said there was so many close calls when he was in Fallujah… that they just stopped counting,” his father said.
Word of Starr’s death shocked many in the tight-knit community of Snohomish.
His mother came home from lunch on Memorial Day to find a Marine Corps van and two Marines standing in her driveway.
The family always knew if Jeff was injured, they’d get a phone call.
A personal visit would mean something far worse.
“He was due to go off-line June 19. He was three weeks away from leaving Iraq,” his father said.
The Marines had offered him $26,000 to stay in.
But Starr, a 2001 graduate of Snohomish High School, wanted to study psychology at Everett Community College.
He figured it would help when he pursued a career in law enforcement. Shellie Starr said her son didn’t want to sit behind a desk, but wanted a job that would be exciting and different each day.
Jeffrey Starr was the middle child, and had two sisters, Hillary, 24, and Emily, 16. His family said that when he was young, he would use spy toys to keep tabs on his older sister.
And he seemed to know when others were checking up on him.
His mother recalled how Jeff always sensed when it was time to make a check-in phone call when he was growing up. They were always perfectly timed.
“And he’d do that every couple of hours, so that I would never come looking for him,” she said. “He had it figured out. Never get Mom worried.”
The Marine’s family and friends also remembered Starr as a warm-hearted, compassionate man who was genuinely glad to meet new people, and who remembered their names when their paths crossed again.
“He was a charmer. He cared about you,” said family friend Kelli Wyll.
His family remembered a young man who loved paintball and motorbikes, and how he begged his mom to put him back in public school after a year of homeschool during the sixth grade.
Adam Nourigat became friends with Starr in high school. They played together on a soccer team as juniors and shared an interest in computer games.
Nourigat sometimes joined Starr at youth group meetings at First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish.
After Starr joined the Marines, they kept in touch though letters and instant messaging.
In August, Starr and another friend celebrated Nourigat’s 21st birthday by going to Las Vegas.
“Jeff loved blackjack” Nourigat said.
Nourigat had last heard from Starr in May, asking if Nourigat could secretly pick him up at SeaTac International Airport so he could surprise his girlfriend.
“He was always such a good friend to everybody,” Nourigat said. “He just always wanted to get back home to his friends.”
Snohomish is reeling from the loss; Starr is the first Marine from Snohomish to die in Iraq.
John Mack, a retired Marine who has been an ROTC instructor at Snohomish High School for 10 years, said he learned of Starr’s death on Tuesday morning from one of the school’s assistant principals.
Starr had taken one semester of ROTC from him during his sophomore year.
Mack recalled that Starr had stopped by the school last fall and they talked briefly in a hallway. Mack was struck by how much Starr had grown since he had last seen him several years before.
“He just seemed to be a good kid and kind of a quiet kid,” Mack said.
At the Snohomish post office, the photo of Starr in his Marine uniform has been moved to the front of a display case that’s filled with photos of locals currently serving overseas.
On Tuesday, an unsigned tribute letter was taped to the outside of the display case near Starr’s photo.
It said: “May all who see this note say a prayer for the family of Jeff Starr. Jeff was a brave soldier, a Snohomish High School grad, a brother, a son, a man of God and an American.”
“One of my clerks went to high school with him,” said postmaster Jim Walter, a former Marine. “Now she’s in tears.”
Starr is the fourth service member from Snohomish County to be killed in Iraq.
Justin W. Hebert of Silvana died Aug. 1, 2003, when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Humvee he was driving. Hebert, an Army paratrooper, was 20.
Lake Stevens High School graduate and Marine machine gunner Cody Calavan died in May 29, 2004. He was 19.
Marine Cpl. Steven A. Rintamaki of Lynnwood died Sept. 16 in Iraq. Rintamaki, 21, was killed in action in Anbar province.
Cpl. Starr had been in constant contact with his family.
He sent an e-mail home last week on his 22nd birthday. It followed an earlier Mother’s Day message, where Jeff wrote to tell Shellie she was the best mom in the world and how he couldn’t wait to get home to give her the hug and kiss that she deserved.
Plans for a memorial service are still being set.
The Starr family have been longtime members of First Presbyterian Church in Snohomish. Their faith and friends are helping them through this difficult time, they said.
“It’s reassuring to know that he’s at peace. And I think we can be at peace,” Brian Starr said.