WWII B-17 pilot, George Starks, reflects on Father’s Day and his crew’s legacy to family

“When we came back from the war, several of us in my B-17 crew found the girls we left behind and who we were thinking about while we were gone. I had had a sweetheart in high school – Betty Jo. I met her when she was 12-years-old and I was 16.  But in those days, if you did well academically, they would promote you ahead, so we were only separated by a couple of grades in school.

As soon as I arrived in Florida, I went immediately to see her and her parents in Jacksonville. We began to date in a serious way, but Jo wanted to finish college before marriage, so we waited until she graduated.

It was a marriage that lasted for 66 years until she passed away in 2013. All of us who flew in that B-17 eventually got married after we returned from Europe. My navigator married while we were in training in Pyote, Texas, just before we shipped out.

Over the years we pursued our careers and began our families; most had grandchildren. Altogether, my crew has 58 grandchildren living that I’m aware of.

Since I am the only one from our original team remaining, this Father’s Day seems a wonderful time to think about the legacy of my B-17 crew that lives on in their families, especially in their grandchildren. What all these fine young people do and are involved in is as varied as you can imagine.

Not surprisingly, some have followed a career path inspired, at least in part, by their grandfathers’ service in WWII. My only grandson graduated from the United States Military Academy a couple of years ago – one of the proudest moments of my life was when I went to West Point, New York, to see that ceremony.

Starks and grandson

George W. Starks standing with his grandson, Marshall Starks, at his graduation in West Point from the United States Military Academy

He currently serves as a lieutenant in the Army. One of Dick Morse’s grandsons is an aeronautical engineer, something he says is a direct result of hearing his granddaddy talk about his flying days in the war. And one of Don Edgerly’s grandsons is a state National Guard recruiter. Our navigator, Ted Badder, has a grandson who is a detective sergeant professionally and a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

Others are teachers, like my two granddaughters; one teaches special needs children, the other is a sports coach. There are businessmen, homemakers, and IT specialists in the group; one is a psychologist, and another is working on her Ph.D. in leadership development.

Several own their own companies or are in the process of creating a start-up company. Some are working for businesses abroad.

Two have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and one competes in open-water racing to Alcatraz and back in his spare time!

Starks book cover

My crew was the best. Their families grew up hearing stories of bravery and courage: granted some of my men waited until later years to share the things that had happened to them in the war, but the grandchildren knew all along how special their grandfathers were – that they had done extraordinary things during WWII. Their families were blessed by their leadership and all were taught to succeed in life. Without question, they were great patriarchs, and their family legacy continues on to this day.”

In the words of Capt. George W. Starks, now age 94, as told to Carole Avriett. The story of Capt. Starks and his nine crew members is told in full in Avriett’s newly-released book, “Coffin Corner Boys: One Bomber, Ten Men, and Their Harrowing Escape from Nazi-Occupied France.