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About the photographer

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Lt. Starr and his Sabrejet "Red Bug II", K-14, 1954. Lt. Starr at his typewriter, K-14, 1954.

Despite his frustration at never having seen action, I've always had the sense that dad's tour in Korea was his favorite during his 20+ year Air Force career.   But I know he was not want of good times after that tour ended. 

A number of important things were born out of his Korea experience, not the least of which was his love affair with bawdy Air Force ballads.  Whenever he heard a new one, or an old one new to his ears, he wrote it down.  He collected hundreds of them, compiling them in a book he called "The Fighter Pilot's Hymn Book".  He even wrote a ballad of his own.

Somewhere around 1957-58, he contacted folk singer Oscar Brand.  "Are you interested in Air Force Songs?" he asked.  "I am, " Brand answered.  He sent Brand the material, and soon a record was in the making. Album1.jpg (33034 bytes)

"The Wild Blue Yonder; songs of our fighting Air Force,  Oscar Brand and the Roger Wilco Four" debuted in the spring of 1959.  Brand's write-up of dad on the album's back cover (and mention in Brand's book "The Ballad Mongers" -- with dad's name misspelled as Capt. William Smart) were practically required reading during my childhood.

Except to provide Brand with a unfamiliar melody over the phone, dad didn't perform for the records (thank goodness.  By all accounts, dad flew better than he sang).   And he wasn't the only Air Force jet jockey sending Brand material; Brand was soon overwhelmed by contributions from other Air Force servicemen.  

Perhaps this is what led to the second album "Out of the Blue; more Air Force songs by Oscar Brand and the Roger Wilco Five."   Whatever the catalyst, as with the first album it was required listening in our household -- especially in light of the fact that it contained dad's original ballad "In Flight Refueling".

Years later the story behind these albums would become the topic of an article I wrote for Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine ("Out of the Blue" Nov/Dec 1997) on the occasion of the United States Air Force's 50th anniversary.

Retiring as a Lt. Col., dad ended a 20+ year Air Force career in 1972.  During his second career as a banker, his favorite pastime soon became amateur radio & electronics.  This should come as no surprise to anybody who really knew him.   As evidenced in his high school yearbook write-up, this was his other true love:

"A scientific brain bulges out of Bill's head... A new boy last year, he has since completely baffled us with his jargon pertaining to radios and amoebae.  While we morons are listening to Jack Benny's show, he is at the same time calculating the time that it takes for Don Wilson's Lucky Strike ad to reach us... Clifton Fadiman probably never even dreamed of Bill's marks when the sophisticate was in school... So we must admit that Bill has -- what are those things anyway? Brains do you call them?"

In the mid 1970s, he built his own home computer -- some of it from scratch.  (he even hand-built the keyboard and B&W monitor)

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Dad in his "radio room" with his home-built computer, circa 1975 (note the flight helmet and jet models on the top shelf)

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Brothers John and Bill Starr onboard
the USS John Moore, 1998.




Among other things, this gave his three children an early start in what was to become a cornerstone industry in the years to come.

Although he mellowed-out in his post Air Force years, he flew recreationally and was known to do zero-G maneuvers (stalls & parabolas) in a rented Cessna 172 with his three children aboard.  Perhaps these early free-fall aerobatics are why two of those children later became skydivers -- one of them a professional skydiver. The third is a US Navy Helicopter pilot (photo at left).  Mom was herself a USAF officer, and is today a retired Registered Nurse.

As evidenced by his meticulous archiving of his old Air Force photographs, Dad was proud of his military aviation career.  Many a time I recall looking at his service photos with him.  One thing that left a lasting impression on me was how many of his squadron mates were killed in peacetime mishaps.  Mind you they hadn't been raining out of the skies in droves.  But every so often dad found a group photo and next thing you know he was telling me about how one, two or three of them didn't survive their last flight.

Ironically, this helped give dad peace as he lay dying of cancer some years later; he figured he was already living on borrowed time.  He thought he should have died years before flying fighter jets.  He felt  lucky to have had two careers and a family.

It is to dad, to those he immortalized in his photographs & journal, and to all veterans that this website is dedicated.

- John Starr
Los Angeles, CA
September 27, 1999

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