By RON SIMON • News Journal • December 8, 2008
MANSFIELD — The Cold War wasn’t cold for Edward Starkey.
“Sometimes when (the Soviets) got tanked up, they’d see our patrols and fire across the river (Danube) at us,” Starkey recalls.
Now and then, Starkey said, the Americans just might fire back.
That was one aspect of a U.S. soldier’s experience in occupied Austria during the 1950s.
Another was the occasional wire stretched across the road by former German SS to decapitate U.S. motorcycle riders.
“We never could find them (SS men) because they just melted into the population once (World War II) was over,” Starkey said.
At the age of 77, Starkey is a veteran of the Korean War era who never went near the site of that war.
Drafted in March 1952, Starkey joined the Army the next month and was quickly trained as a member of the Signal Corps at Camp Gordon, Ga.
“We had plenty of real basic training during our two months,” he said. “I dug my share of foxholes and nearly made expert on the rifle range.”
But of the nearly 900 men who trained at Fort Gordon and then at Fort Monmouth, N.J., only a handful were sent overseas. Starkey was one of them.
He was a radar repairman and destined to join the 516th Signal Company in Austria.
“Austria was occupied by us, the French, British and Russians. We only had 10,000 troops there and just one signal company,” Starkey said. “There was no war going on, but there were plenty of places where an American didn’t dare go after dark.”
So, by day, Starkey, the only radar repairman in all of Austria, somehow managed to get the only radar set in Austria assembled and working.
Shortages and old equipment were common during the early stages of the Cold War in Europe.
Starkey remembers the long trip across the Atlantic and Mediterranean aboard an elderly ship called the “General Rose.” He said the ship continually broke down, much to the advantage of the passengers who spent the repair time touring the cities of Algiers, Naples and Leghorn before their ship finally got them to their destination.
Once he arrived in Austria, Starkey said his job was to dig through a military supply depot until he found a radar set.
“I was able to find it, set it up and get it running,” he said.
With the help of a helicopter pilot, Starkey set up a line of frequency detectors that helped his lonely radar set detect the difference between moving and non-moving targets. But the real targets were on the other side of the Danube River.
“We spent a lot of time on maneuvers and we were close enough to Russian troops that they might shoot up our vehicles,” Starkey said. “I found an unexploded 20 millimeter shell that had gone right through the side of a half-track and lodged in one of my radio sets.
“You can bet I was 50 yards away as soon as I saw it.”
Starkey said the vehicles the Army used in Austria were generally old and badly in need of repair or replacement.
He recalls a moment on the rifle range when a deer wandered across the target area.
“Everyone started firing away at it and our range instructor was yelling at us to stop firing. But once we did he chewed us out for missing the deer,” Starkey said.
While he was in Europe he took leave and joined his future wife, Barbara, who was part of a European tour. The two met at Oberlin College before Starkey was drafted. He proposed to her at Geneva, Switzerland. They have been married since 1954.
The couple has three sons, James and Donald, both of Mansfield, and Kenneth, who has been a Christian missionary in China for the past 20 years. There are six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Starkey grew up in Akron and Willard. His father, Daryle Starkey, was an engineer for the Fate-Root-Heath Company in Plymouth. Edward worked there for a couple of summers, too.
After his time in service, the Willard graduate worked for Fate-Root-Heath and left in 1957 to start his own machine shop, Starkey Machinery, in Galion. Its products include electric insulators, sewer pipe, flower pots, dishes and other items. Starkey said his company was able to buy and absorb Fate-Root-Heath Co. several years ago.
Starkey spent much of his time on the road calling on customers .
“We’re a narrow, vertical business where everybody knows everybody else,” he said.
Now his sons are running the business. Starkey retired in the late 1990s.
After he first came home, Starkey was a member of the U.S. Army Reserves and remembers there was no place to put a man with his skills.
So, he wound up with a graves registration unit based in Marion.
“They tried to call me up during the Suez Canal Crisis in the 1950s, but I was out of town on a sales trip and it took them seven days to find me,” he said.
In retirement, the Starkeys still travel and were in New York City and Washington, D.C. just weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The couple lives on Devonwood Drive in Mansfield.
E-mail Ron Simon at rsimon@ neo.rr.com or call 419-756-7269.