Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Rupert Starr, who became a POW in Germany during World War II and later became a well-known LGBTQ+ activist.
After graduating from high school in 1940, Rupert Starr attended Ohio University to study business administration. He joined the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and decided to enlist in January 1943. Following basic training, he attended infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was promoted to second lieutenant. Starr was then assigned to the 422nd Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division and served as a liaison officer. In October 1944, the 442nd Regiment was sent to England and then deployed to St. Vith, Belgium, as part of the Army offensive during the Battle of the Bulge.
In mid-December, the 106th Infantry Division was surrounded by German forces, and Starr volunteered to attempt to cross enemy lines to get a message back to the division headquarters. Starr traveled at night to avoid detection but was captured with the U.S. 7th Armored Division before he could reach headquarters.
Though he was now a prisoner of war (POW), Starr was determined to escape and rejoin his comrades. After their capture, the Germans marched the men across the border into Germany and loaded them onto boxcars for transport to prison camps. Starr and his fellow prisoners were trapped in the boxcars for eight days without food or water, and he credited his military training with his survival during this time. “The training we receive in the military is [about] personal survival and ingenuity… to make a plan and proceed,” he remembered, talking in an interview for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
Starr spent four months in various prison camps in Germany before being imprisoned in Poznan, Poland. In the spring of 1945, the Germans forced the men to march to eastern Germany before abandoning them to flee the advancing Russians. Starr returned to the U.S. in April 1945 and honorably discharged as a second lieutenant. For his service, he received the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge.
After leaving the military, Starr graduated from Ohio University in 1946 and worked for the Ohio-based Proctor & Gamble company. In 1950, he moved to Columbus to work for the real estate developer John Galbreath. He became a successful realtor, going on to serve as President of the Columbus Board of Realtors and in senior advisory positions for various business and civic organizations in Columbus.
Starr was not open about his sexuality until he learned about the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against open LGBTQ+ service. In 2004, while being active in the LGBTQ+ movement, filmmaker Patrick Sammon persuaded Starr to appear in the promotional video “Courage Under Fire,” which aimed to defeat the policy. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was overturned in 2011.
In 2009, Starr was named grand marshal of the Columbus gay pride parade, the second largest LGBTQ parade in the Midwest. “I’m so proud of my country,” Starr said in a 2014 Associated Press article. “I’m so proud of my part in making our country what it is today.”
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editors: Julia Pack, Katherine Berman
Researchers: Jordan Gossett, Crystal Moore
Graphic Designer: Sarah Kowalewski