Shellie Starr always wears her necklace, a gold star with an emerald in the center. The brilliant green gem is the birthstone for May. Her only son, Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Starr, was born May 25, 1983. He was killed in Iraq 22 years and six days later, on Memorial Day 2005.
“It feels like forever since I’ve seen him. That can make me cry,” she said.
In their Snohomish home, where photos and other mementos of their Marine son are on prominent display, Shellie and Brian Starr talked Thursday about their lives now.
They are proud parents and grandparents. Their older daughter, Hillary, is a family doctor raising four boys with her husband. Younger daughter Emily is also a wife and mother, with one son.
“Both the girls are in Snohomish,” said Shellie Starr. “I can be a hands-on grandma.”
Life revolves around those five grandsons, ages 4 to 10. Yet since Jan. 3, when a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general near the Baghdad airport in Iraq, they are again focused on the Middle East and global tensions.
“When everything was so frantic in the news, and the news kept going and going in the cyclical fashion it does, I was just thinking of the families of those deployed now,” Shellie Starr said. “I know that nervousness. When Jeff was involved in the invasion, they wore chemical suits. It was 105 degrees out. I remember all that anxiety.”
An assaultman, Jeff Starr was part of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, based at California’s Camp Pendleton. On his third deployment to Iraq, he was less than a month from his homecoming when he was killed by small-arms fire near Ramadi.
Months after his death, his poignant last letter to his girlfriend was featured in The Herald. Brian Starr had found it on his son’s computer weeks after the Marine was killed. The letter said, in part: “If you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. … I don’t regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom.” Later, President George W. Bush quoted those words in a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Jeff Starr, a Snohomish High School graduate, enlisted in the Marines in March 2001, months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He wasn’t planning to stay in the military, but hoped to attend Everett Community College and eventually work in law enforcement.
For Shellie Starr, this month’s renewed troubles related to Iraq and Iran bring back memories of their son’s deployments, and raise the specter of war without end.
Leading up to the Gulf War was Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. From that time until Jeff Starr was killed was 15 years. This May, it will be another 15 years since the Starrs lost their son. His mother said it’s not hard to look forward and imagine her grandsons coming of age still in a time of war.
“It’s distressing what’s going on, but not unexpected. Iran has hated us for 40 years. It’s a dangerous world,” she said. “When you think about it, we’ve been in Japan and Germany since World War II. That’s not a reflection on this administration or the last administration. In this world, we are the good guys.”
The Starrs remain in touch with Marine veterans who served with their son. On Thursday, they shared an email they just received from a close friend of Jeff’s, a fellow Marine: “Jeff hit me hard today with a wild range of feeling and emotions all at maximum intensity,” it said. “I started to think about how important Jeff is still to my life, and how other people have lost their Jeff and so on.”
As a Gold Star family, one that has lost a loved one in military service, the Starrs are far from alone. About 5,000 U.S. service members were killed fighting in the Iraq War. Roughly 2,000 have died in Afghanistan.
“My Gold Star friends are a whole myriad of the political spectrum,” Shellie Starr said. “When commiserating with each other, we try not to throw political bombs. It just makes things worse. We do all have this common bond.”
As incredibly proud as they are of their son’s service and sacrifice, “I didn’t want to be a Gold Star mom,” she said. “My identity is a grandma. That’s where I’m putting my energy. It gives real peace and comfort.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.