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Starnes grew up in Decatur, Georgia. His father was a travelling salesman. By the time he started school he was living in Atlanta. Even though Starnes grew up in the Depression he remembers his family as being pretty well off. He attended high school in Decatur and then attended Emory College. After his second year of college, Starnes was working at the local movie theater. One of his friends who worked with him told Starnes that he was joining the Navy. His friend joining the Navy convinced Starnes to do the same. Starnes was sent to Guantanamo Bay [AnnotatorÂ’s Note: Cuba] for training. After spending time at Guantanamo they were sent back to New York City. They would attend school five days a week, if they had passing grades for the week they were allowed to go into New York.When they passed the Draft Act in 1940 [AnnotatorÂ’s Note: Selective Training and Service Act] it was apparent that the country could be headed for war. When they graduated in November of 1940 they were commissioned as ensigns. They had the choice of going active duty or to take some time off. Starnes was assigned to the USS Boise [AnnotatorÂ’s Note: USS Boise (CL-47)].In January of 1941 Starnes was assigned to the Pacific fleet. They stayed in Pearl Harbor until November 1941. They had two fleets called a starboard and a port fleet. They would rotate deployments to sea; the starboard being the sea bound fleet and the port fleet being the fleet that got to stay in Pearl Harbor. Most of the training that Starnes and the men received was geared towards repelling a Japanese attack.In November of 1941 they were assigned to take a convoy to China. On the 18th of November Starnes and the USS Boise set sail for Manila. They arrived in Manila on December 5th, 1941. Starnes was in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked. On his way up to the bridge to get a cup of coffee Starnes found out that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. They were immediately in a state of war. They were told to stay in the immediate area for awhile, which was the Philippines.
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