The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Larry Nelson
For The Sun-Telegraph 

Veteran's History Project - Dean E. Starr


Dean E. Starr

Petty Officer 2nd Class

U.S. Navy


EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is one of many American Veteran accounts published in The Sidney Sun-Telegraph. The writer, who is from Potter, is conducting the interviews as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project. This article originally pubished on June 16, 2012.

Dean Starr was 11 when the Japanese attacked our Naval forces at Pearl Harbor. From the concern in his dad's voice, he knew something dreadful had happened. Things changed.

Dean's father began working on the construction end of war projects in Western Nebraska. The school in Scottsbluff would let kids out early to pick potatoes. They worked in the fields alongside German and Italian prisoners of war.

Dean's dad was named "Air raid warden" for their district of town. As Boy Scouts, Dean and his fellow scouts were charged with notifying residents of violations like having their lights on, etc.

In 1945, Dean was old enough to remember the days that World War II ended both in Europe and in Japan, three months later. There were parades, and there was a lot of satisfaction for the total war effort the people had made for the troops to be successful.

In 1948, Dean graduated high school at Scottsbluff. He attended the local junior college and determined that this was not to be for him, just now anyway. In June 1950, the Korean conflict began. Dean wanted to be a part of the military. He contacted a retired Navy chief for advice. Maybe, with his background and experience, he could apply that to use somewhere? The chief told him to make his situation known when he got to boot camp.

In November 1950, Dean joined the U.S. Navy. He soon boarded a train from Denver headed to the Naval training Center in San Diego. There were other guys from this area on the train as well. On arrival at the training center, haircuts happened, new clothing issued, new friends made, and ... this is a barracks!

Another of the firsts was that Dean was close to the front of the line when medics were giving new recruits their shots. The medics recruited Dean to be the guy to wipe alcohol on the arms of the men before getting poked. He got the confirmation that "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." Some were not good at being injected.

The training involved rifle marksmanship. Dean was doing pretty well. A kid from Nebraska usually was not a stranger to shooting. Dean was among the top eight young men to have the highest scores. For that, he was classified as one who was BAR qualified. (Browning Automatic Rifle – a very cool, very powerful weapon, a magazine fed .45 caliber machine gun, capable of doing significant damage to enemy forces).

In boot camp, Dean followed the suggestion of the chief. He told an interviewer about his construction abilities. They seemed to have enough of them so Dean was assigned to be an aviation electrician/technician. Once this training ended, Dean was assigned to duty on a ship: the U.S.S. Sicily CVE 118. (CVE is an acronym for Carrier Vessel Escort.) It was to be his new home for the next couple of years.

The CVE was a fairly good-sized ship. It was an aircraft carrier escort. It was a size or two smaller than the carrier, but carried and launched fighter aircraft. The main airplane aboard the USS Sicily was the F4U-4B "Corsair." When Dean was first on the ship, he was a plane pusher. The V-1 group was a crew of men assigned to manually push the planes into position for take-off or for storage after landing. A senior member of a different crew noticed Dean and liked how he worked. He asked Dean to try out for that crew. The new assignment was working with those who launched planes and stopping the planes when they landed.

The F4U Corsair was/is a different looking plane. It sits at an angle where the motor is significantly higher than the pilot. The big engine is necessary, but the pilot has no real vision of what is in front of him until the plane is airborne and the whole machine levels off. That means that the pilot has to rely on the ground crew to get him off the ground (and onto the ground). The launch procedure is to get the plane lined up with the catapult. It can't be "just about there" but has a specific placement. Cables have to be released, the pilot has to get the engine to the correct RPM, then, with the hand signals and radio communication, the catapult is set, and ZOOM!

The steam-powered ram sends the 17,000 pound plane down the deck of the ship and into the air. There are several more planes to go before rest. In time, they will return and the crew will have to ensure safe landings. When the planes were sent away, they were usually fully loaded with bombs, torpedoes, rockets and 50 caliber ammunition.

At one launch, Dean recalled an event that didn't end so well. A Corsair was set to launch. Something or someone told Dean to head for the catwalk and he did just that. The plane shot out but was still hooked to a cable that had not released. The plane made it to the end of the flight deck but the cables lashed out. A sailor lost part of a leg, another lost his career due to prolonged injury of a knee, a third was shaken up but returned to duty. Dean wishes he knew who to thank for the advice. Had he been at his previous spot, he would have lost his legs.

The U.S.S. Sicily had some firsts for flyers. From this platform the first jet powered MIG was shot down by a propeller driven aircraft. The change in approaching the flight deck changed as well. Instead of making their initial landing straight onto the flight deck, the British told them to approach at an angle at first so they could see where they were going. Then straighten out and land. This tip saved many lives. The U.S.S. Sicily should be credited with sinking a submarine as well. The depth charges had been dropped and they lost track of the sub on sonar. Oddly, any record of this event has been misplaced.

The U.S.S. Sicily was initially assigned to the Atlantic Fleet operating out of Norfolk, Va. As things in Korea heated up, she was sent down through the Panama Canal and on to San Diego, her new home port. She was sent on to the Korean waters. While Dean was aboard, she worked on both the east and west coast of Korea in support of ground forces there.

Information had surfaced that the Korean enemy had planned to drive a small group of warships straight through allied forces. To make sure this didn't happen, the U.S.S. Sicily was sent to the eastern coast of Korea. There were four destroyers nearby as carrier escorts. It arrived at night. Dean said that when he got on the flight deck the next morning, there were allied ships aside his and on all sides as far as the eye could see. This was a mock invasion, aimed at getting the Koreans to re-focus on the aspects of peace.

Dean's sleeping quarters were closer to the lower part of the ship, and near machinery. The machinery part would have been the catapult and the cables and pulleys supporting the "cat." It is unknown how much sleep took place when launch operations were under way but the noise generated from that much thrust would have been deafening.

Dean kept in touch with home by letter-writing. The living places were satisfactory when operations were not happening. The food was good with the caveat that most of it was from powder base. Dean now avoids powdered foods – especially milk or eggs! Dean kept busy by tooling and lacing leather. There were lots of card games, pinnacle and cribbage as well. There were chances to go on leave when the ship got into home port. He arrived home for weddings and Christmas celebrations.

Because of his hard work on the flight deck, he was promoted to "plane driver." His job was to be sure the planes were lined up in the right sequence and placement to be sent off correctly. Not an easy job under pressure.

In 1953, Dean had requested duty on another ship so he could be closer to his ailing wife. He was transferred to the U.S.S. Rendova CVE-114. It was a sister-ship to the USS Sicily. This ship was used closer to the U.S. and for the purpose of training pilots how to take off and land the Corsair on this platform. It was the same work, but didn't involve sending the planes on to battle. The dangers of moving aircraft remained though. Dean watched as a sailor walked between two planes. He came close to the moving propeller blades of the back plane. Dean yelled and yelled at the man and signaled to the pilot to cut his engine ... luckily, the guy realized what was happening and all ended well. Dang!

When it looked like his service time was ending, Dean was sent to Oak Harbor, Wash., where he performed shore duty. In November 1954, Dean left the U.S. Navy and returned to Nebraska.

He worked construction projects in the Scottsbluff area, then moved to Sidney where he continued his work. He is a lifetime member of the VFW and "Ships Roster." Were a Ham radio operator to call out for "N0VIG" Dean would answer the call.

Dean and his wife are among those committed to providing a great meal at Christmas time. It is the Ella Mae Goranson Dinner. Last year they served about 150 people, with the thought that no one should have to be alone during the holidays. Dean is a volunteer firefighter in Sidney as well – over 40 years. At 80-plus years of age, he's still charging on!

Petty Officer Dean Starr, thank you for your service!


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