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Richard Samuel Starks


Richard Starks grew up in Woodford County, Kentucky. He attended the Midway High School and the University of Kentucky before enlisting in April 1941. After his enlistment, he was sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma for primary training, starting to fly the Fairchild PT-19. After ten weeks and about 60 flying hours, he and his classmates were sent to St. Angelo, Texas for their basic training. They flew on Vultee BT-13 and BT-15’s. After ten weeks and sixty more hours, they were sent to Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas for their advance training.
After graduating from Flying School on 12 December 1941 and getting his pilot’s wings, Starks had two weeks leave and then had to report to San Francisco for shipment to the Philippines. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed the plans and Starks and his comrades stayed at Brooks Field, flew the observer planes and took the air observers up for their training.
In February 1942, Starks was sent to Tampa, Florida and assigned to the 97th Bomb Group and the 414th Bomb Squadron. He passed the test to fly the B-17 very quickly, was assigned an airplane, given a crew to train which he set out to form a cohesive unit. Starks and his crew were in Tampa six weeks before flying to Sarasota, Florida, for further training.
After six weeks at Sarasota they were ordered to the Middletown Air Depot in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where their plane, like the others, was completely overhauled to ready it for combat. During the two weeks they spent there, they made test flights, reporting problems that the ground crews could fix before the next trip. Starks and crew left Harrisburg with England as its ultimate destination. Due to bad weather they had to land at Mitchell Field, New York. The following day, it was raining hard and very foggy when they left Mitchell Field. The weather forced the flight to land, but no one field in the country could handle a force the size they were. The B-17s were allotted to different airfields and three planes, including Starks’ B-17E, landed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas that night. They flew the next day to McChord Field, near Lakewood, Washington, loaded bombs and ammunition and waited for attacks from the Japs on the West Coast that did not materialize. After a few days, they left for Mitchell Field, South Dakota, then, at the end of May 1942, they flew to Grenier Field, New Hampshire, the next stop on their way to England being Presque Isle, Maine.
From there they flew to Labrador on 26 June, half the crews landing at Goose Bay, the other half at Gander.
Starks flew from Gander with the others to Bluey West One in Greenland, then landed at Keflavik, Iceland, before heading for Prestwick, Scotland. Starks and the 414th flew from there to the base at Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, England.
Richard Starks and his crew were part of the first 8th Air Force heavy bomber raid on occupied Europe, to bomb the Rouen/Sotteville marshalling yards on 17 August 1942. On 19 August, the crew flew to Abbeville, France in support of the Allied landing in Dieppe. On the third mission staged by the 8th AF, on 21 August 1942 to shipyards in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Starks piloted #41-9089 "Johnny Reb". Lagging behind the formation, it became easy prey for German Fw190s. A shell went through the right windscreen and the Co-Pilot, 2nd Lt Donald A. Walter, was killed instantly. The cockpit was wrecked, the top turret was blown out and Richard Starks was severely wounded, in the chest, an arm and legs, his hands badly burned. His mask had been knocked off and, lacking oxygen, barely conscious, Starks managed to call his Bombardier, Lt Ewart T. Sconiers on the radio. Coming to the cabin, Sconiers quickly sized up the situation. He put Starks' mask back on, pulled the body of the co-pilot from the seat and controls and took his place. Sconiers, who had tried to become a pilot, had washed out in primary training and had gone back to civilian life before joining again as a Bombardier. Now at the controls, the Bombardier noticed that two engines were losing power as he flew the stricken plane in sight of the coast of England. Struggling with the controls, trying to manage the gyrocompass and stabilize the air speed, advised by pilot Starks, Ewart Sconiers finally managed to bring the plane safely back, landing at Horsham St Faith. The story made the headlines all over the US as well as in the United Kingdom. Starks was taken to a British Hospital for a couple of days and then to an American Hospital.
Both Lt Starks and Ewart Sconiers were awarded the DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) in a ceremony at Polebrook airfield on 17 September 1942. A Pathe newsreel of the ceremony :
Richard Starks had six surgeries in England over several months. Due to his condition, he was never able to pass the Combat Physical again and he was sent back to the United States. After his recovery, he served as an instructor at an Air Force school in Texas, where he trained B-17 pilots for combat. He was later an air inspector in Oklahoma and Iowa. After his discharge in 1945, he co-piloted DC-3s for Eastern Airlines for a year before returning to Midway to start farming. Appointed police judge in Midway, he won a term to that position and was the city’s last police judge to serve before the judicial system was reorganized. Richard Starks, widower of Hilda Marshall Starks, passed away in 2006.



  • William Adams

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Radio Operator | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 #41-24443 while serving as Radio Operator, Prisoner of War (POW).

  • Thomas Calhoun

    Military | Sergeant | Left Waist Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 #41-24443 while serving as Left Waist Gunner, Prisoner of War (POW).

  • Roy Nalley

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Top Turret Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    Note : the 1930 US Census has his family's name wrongly spelled as Nally... This was corrected in the 1940 one > Nalley... A Top Turret Gunner, Roy Nalley was shot down on 21 October 1942 in B-17 #41-24443, Prisoner of War (POW).

  • William Schimke

    Military | Sergeant | Ball Turret Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 #41-24443 while serving as Ball Turret Gunner, Prisoner of War (POW).

  • Ewart Sconiers

    Military | First Lieutenant | Bombardier | 97th Bomb Group
    Lt Ewart Sconiers was Bombardier on B-17 #41-9089 'Johnny Reb', one of the 12 B-17s participating in the first heavy bomber raid of the 8th Air Force on 17 August 1942. The target were the shipyards of Rouen/Sotteville, France. ...

  • James Simmons

    Military | Sergeant | Tail Gunner | 97th Bomb Group
    Shot down 21 October 1942 in B-17 #41-24443 while serving as Tail Gunner, Prisoner of War (POW). After being held at Stalag Luft 1 (Barth, Germany), he was transferred to Stalag XIII (Hammelburg, Germany), where he was head of the escape committee.

  • Harold Spire

    Military | First Lieutenant | Navigator | 97th Bomb Group
    Note : In both the 1930 and 1940 Censuses, Harold and his parents are listed as Spires. All later documents, including his Enlistment records, his Escape & Evasion Report have him as Harold Spire... ...

  • Donald Walter

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Co-Pilot | 97th Bomb Group
    Killed in Action (KIA) in fighter attack in B-17 #41-9089. First Killed in Action (KIA) for VIII Bomber Command.

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Units served with

  • 97th Bomb Group

    97th Bomb Group

    The 97th Bomb Group flew the Eighth Air Force's first heavy bomber mission from the UK when they bombed a marshalling yard at Rouen on 17 August 1942. Just a month later though the Group were reassigned to the Twelfth Air Force and left England for the...

  • 414th Bomb Squadron


  • 41-9089 Johnny Reb

    B-17 Flying Fortress
    Delivered Sarasota 15/4/42. Assigned 414BS/97BG Polebrook 4/42. Flew on first 8th Air Force heavy bomber mission 17 August 1942 with Pilot Lt. Richard S. Starks (WIA 21/8/42); Co-pilot: Donald A. Walter (KIA 21/8/42); Navigator: Harold Spire;...


  • VIII Bomber Command 1

    17 August 1942
    The US 8AF launches its first strategic bombing raid of the war, sending 12 Boeing B-17Es of the 97BG on a strike against the railyards of Sotteville-lès-Rouen, France, while another six fly a diversionary route. The attacking force is split into two...

  • VIII Bomber Command 4

    21 August 1942
    97BG despatches 12 B-17s on a mission to bomb the shipyards and harbour facilities at Rotterdam, Holland. The mission is aborted when attacked by approximately 25 Bf-109 and Fw-190 fighter aircraft. Spitfire aircraft were despatched by 31FG as escorts...

Associated Place

  • Polebrook

    Military site : airfield
    Polebrook was laid down for RAF Bomber Command use in 1940-1941. Built by George Wimpey and Co. Ltd, it had short runways which were lengthened for USAAF heavy bomber use. The RAF used the base for operational trials - including of B-17 Flying...


Event Location Date
Born Midway, Kentucky 1 April 1919

the son of James Stires Starks and Pearl Potter Faulconer Starks

Enlisted Fort Knox, Kentucky, United States 25 April 1941

as an Aviation Cadet in the Air Corps

Pilot 1st 8th AF mission Rouen, France 17 August 1942

Served as Pilot of B-17 #41-9089 "Johnny Reb" which flew on the first 8th AF heavy bomber mission of the war 17-Aug-1942 to bomb the railroad yards at Rouen, France.

Wounded in Action (WIA) Rotterdam, The Netherlands 21 August 1942

Wounded in Action while serving as Pilot of B-17 #41-9089 "Johnny Reb" Recovered and Returned to Duty.

Died Midway, Woodford County, Kentucky, United States 18 December 2006
Lived in Midway, Woodford County, Kentucky, United States
Buried Midway Cemetery, Midway, Woodford County, Kentucky, United States


Date Contributor Update
13 December 2021 02:46:38 decwriter Changes to service number and awards

Lt Starks entered service in 1941 and was eligible for the ADSM and the ACM for his service after recovering from wounds received in action in 1942. He earned at least one bronze service star on the EAME Campaign Medal and also earned the WWII Victory Medal.

Date Contributor Update
23 April 2020 01:20:55 jmoore43 Changes to biography and events

Added a "#" to the A/C serial numbers in the "Summary biography" & in the events sections to aid clarity & consistency.

Date Contributor Update
29 October 2017 13:59:42 ED-BB Changes to biography

Updated the link to the Pathe newsreel in the Bio

Date Contributor Update
19 September 2015 08:56:09 ED-BB Changes to media associations

Deleted duplicate photo (17558 = 17520)

Date Contributor Update
19 September 2015 08:54:59 ED-BB Changes to media associations

Deleted duplicate photo (17558 = 17520...)

Date Contributor Update
19 September 2015 08:53:51 ED-BB Changes to media associations

Deleted duplicate photo (17558 = 17520...)

Date Contributor Update
11 September 2015 15:20:31 ED-BB Changes to media associations

added photo connection

Date Contributor Update
11 September 2015 15:13:59 ED-BB Changes to middlename, service number, highest rank, biography, awards, events, person associations and media associations

NARA WWII Enlistment records
Roger Freeman's "The Mighty Eighth War Diary"
Info from the Starks family

Date Contributor Update
12 November 2014 23:30:14 Lee8thbuff Changes to awards

Lee Cunningham 12-Nov-2014. Added decoration connection.

Date Contributor Update
12 November 2014 23:28:38 Lee8thbuff Changes to biography, events, place associations, aircraft associations and mission associations

Lee Cunningham 12-Nov-2014. Added events.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:22:46 AAM AAM ingest

97th Bomb Group Association, Inc., Roster - June 1, 2000 / Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia