A hero’s tombstone needed

EAST LIVERPOOL – They were called the Devil’s Brigade, and East Liverpool native Hugh R. Starr was counted as one of their elite members.

Starr saw heavy combat action with the Devil’s Brigade, the intimidating nickname for the Army’s 1st Special Service Force, on the World War II battlefields of Italy and southern France.

But it would all come to an end for Starr on Aug. 24, 1944, when, during the evacuation of injured soldiers, his jeep hit a land mine near Frejus, France.

At age 30, Starr succumbed to his wounds and was buried in France. Then, four years later, Starr’s body was brought back to East Liverpool and was buried in the veterans section of Riverview Cemetery on April 29, 1948.

Seventy years after Starr’s death, cemetery officials want to replace his upright cement tombstone with a marble one, but can’t because they need more information about the Army corporal.

Cemetery Superintendent Helen Stenger said she applied for a replacement marker from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs but received a letter asking for more information.

Starr’s current gravestone is in a highly deteriorated state, with only the words “World War II” and his birthdate legible.

Stenger said she learned about Starr after a woman recently told her about the Devil’s Brigade. “I went looking for it and I found it, and it is deteriorated,” she said.

An estimated 300 veterans of various wars are buried in the cemetery’s veterans section, where Stenger has successfully replaced other old gravestones with new ones.

Stenger believes Starr’s marker is significant because of the Army unit in which he served. “They were highly trained. They were an elite unit. Most of them were killed because they went on such dangerous missions,” she said.

Starr enlisted in the Army in 1940 and went overseas in 1943. Previously, he had worked at Weirton Steel and Crucible Steel, one of five sons of Hugh and Eleanor (Gibbs) Starr.

While fighting in Italy, Starr, a paratrooper, was wounded on Dec. 8, 1943, and had to spend time recuperating in a Mediterranean base hospital. He rejoined the Devil’s Brigade in time for “Operation Dragoon,” the much-anticipated Allied invasion of southern France – two months after the D-Day invasion of northern France.

The 1st Special Service Force, a precursor to today’s elite commando units, landed on the islands of Port-Cros and Iles d’Hyeres and helped secure them for the joint American-Canadian-French invasion force on the southeastern coast of France.

Starr’s obituary in the March 30, 1948, edition of the Evening Review said he was working as a member of a litter team in Frejus, France, and was evacuating injured soldiers when his jeep struck a land mine on Aug. 24, 1944.

According to the website OperationDragoon.org, the invasion force’s “capture of the French ports of Toulon and Marseilles and the subsequent push north up the Rhone Valley proved essential as a supply route for the support of the northern troops’ push south and also in allowing the Allied forces to move east to Germany.”

Starr’s unit was disbanded in December 1944 and received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2013.

“I think it’s quite a big deal,” Stenger said. “To me, it is.”