General Donn A. Starry, 1925 – 2011: In Memoriam
General Donn A. Starry, 1925-2011
“…And this eternal resting place
Is known as Fiddlers’ Green…”
The story of Fiddler’s Green, the legendary place of afterlife where there is perpetual mirth and a fiddle is always playing, was published in 1923, in Cavalry Journal and is used today by modern cavalry units to memorialize the deceased.
America lost a great warrior August 26, 2011. General Donn Albert Starry, born May 31, 1925, was a Soldier’s Soldier and a rough-riding Armor and Cavalry officer who helped shape our modern U. S. Army. He touched the lives of countless Soldiers and helped train many of the generals and senior NCOs who are commanding Soldiers in combat today. Here is a short glimpse of the man:
In May 1970 America was at war in Vietnam. In order to stop communist infiltration into the Republic of Vietnam from Cambodia, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces attacked into Cambodia to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail. During the incursion into Cambodia, units like the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, led by Colonel Donn Starry proved their worth to "Find the bastards and pile on," which proved to be the battle cry of the 11th ACR in Vietnam, during the battle of Snoul, Cambodia, in early May 1970.
Starry’s troopers fought at the town of Snoul, Cambodia, from M113 Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles (ACAVs) and M551 Sheridan Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles while Cobra helicopter gunships from the 11th ACR aviation squadrons pummeled the enemy. With 152mm main gun canister rounds, .50-caliber machine guns, 7.62mm coax machine guns and M-16 rifles they fought through the rubber tree stumps to Snoul to uncover a large North Vietnamese Army (NVA) supply dump. The 141st NVA Regiment defended a rubber plantation as Starry’s mechanized forces rapidly overran the communist defenses.
On May 5, 1979, leading his men at Snoul, Colonel Starry was in the thick of the fighting. As the NVA broke from the overwhelming 11th ACR assault, Starry and his Sergeant Major rushed out of their ACAV — Starry with an M-16 and the Sergeant Major with a .45-caliber pistol – and engaged the retreating NVA. A group of NVA led by an NVA lieutenant tried to run into a bunker, but Starry captured the NVA officer before he could escape. The rest of the NVA scurried into the dugout. As Starry prepared to throw a grenade into the bunker to knock out the ones who had gotten away, an NVA soldier inside lobbed out a grenade at Starry. The grenade exploded. Starry was peppered with shrapnel in the back and stomach and the concussion busted his eardrums. The explosion also wounded three American Soldiers near Starry (one of them, Frederick Franks, Jr., lost a leg but went on to become, like Starry, a four-star general who spearheaded the U. S. victory in Desert Storm, 1991). More American Cavalrymen arrived, blasted the bunker entrance with M-16 fire and one of them tossed in a grenade. The explosion detonated inside the bunker and a stunned, surviving NVA soldier inside was taken prisoner.
Starry recovered, continued to command his Regiment and refused evacuation, but his stomach wound and loss of blood caused him to fade. He was evacuated from the field but returned to his troopers three weeks later to hand over command of the 11th ACR. Starry received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with “V” (Valor) for the action at Snoul, Cambodia. He also received three other decorations for courage under fire in previous engagements in Vietnam: the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions when his command helicopter was shot down; the Soldiers’ Medal for helping the crew of a burning armored vehicle to safety; and the Silver Star when he made an unauthorized incursion with a cavalry troop and a tank company into Cambodia to save the lives of an OH-6 Helicopter crew downed by enemy fire behind NVA lines.
He performed a quintessential role in creating the superb Army we know today.
Colonel Starry went on to become a General officer and one of the most respected leaders in the American Army. His command of the U.S. Army Armor School (1973–1976), command of V Corps in Germany (1976–1977), and later his command of the newly formed Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), were particularly critical as our Army adapted from the dislocation of Vietnam and transitioned to an all-volunteer force. His championship of the innovative training and leadership concept of “Sergeant’s Time” and his faith in the Army Noncommissioned Officer Corps was decisive in rebuilding effective Army leaders after the Vietnam War. General Starry was also central to the retraining and education of the force under the doctrine of AirLand Battle, the maneuver-based warfighting doctrine that proved so stunningly successful in Desert Storm in 1991 and in the overwhelming defeat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army in 2003. Through Starry’s inspiration and dedicated leadership, he performed a quintessential role in creating the superb Army we know today.
Starry, who entered the army as an enlisted Soldier in 1943, was a 1948 graduate of the United States Military Academy, serving from 1943 until his retirement from the Army in 1983. He earned many awards and decorations during his include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with "V" (for Valor) device, the Soldier’s Medal, the Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters. He was also the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment for the 11th Armored Cavalry “Blackhorse” Regiment, a distinction he cherished above all others.
His greatest reward, however, is the admiration he inspired in a generation of Soldiers. General Donn Starry set the example of what an Army officer should be. He led from the front and inspired confidence in his men in combat and in training. He will be missed by all of us and, I have no doubt that right now, in those far-off shady meadows, there is a grand celebration going on in Fiddler’s Green.
—John Antal, Colonel, Armor, US Army, Retired
Published in Army magazine.