Saturday, January 08, 2011

PT-109, JFK, and Ray Starkey of Garden Grove

On a moonless night in the Solomon Islands in 1943, Torpedo Boat PT-109, commanded by Lieutenant, junior grade John F. Kennedy, was smashed to pieces when a Japanese destroyer plowed right through them. Some were killed, but 10 American sailors survived. The nearby larger islands had enemy camps on them, so the survivors swam four hours to a tiny deserted island with no food or water. Kennedy later swam to and scouted other islands and led his men to one with both water and coconut trees. Six days later, friendly natives in a canoe found them. Kennedy carved a message into a coconut for the natives to take to the nearest Allied base. Soon, they were rescued.

That's a short version of a very famous story. But until someone emailed me from Ireland, I had no idea there was a significant Orange County connection. Con McGrath wrote,

"I am doing research on the war career of President Kennedy and the men he served with on PT-109. Among his men was Torpedoman's Mate 2/c Ray L. Starkey, ...from Garden Grove, California, [who] was twenty nine when he joined the crew of the PT-109. He came aboard to replace Edmund Drewitch, who had been injured earlier on the PT-109."
McGrath went on to ask what I could tell him about Starkey, and whether I knew of any family members. Truth be told, it was all news to me. However, I did some research and came up with quite a bit, including the following:
Raymond Lee "Ray" Starkey was born in California, Feb. 24th, 1914. In the 1920 census, Ray, his parents, Ray N. and Ruby F. Starkey, were living in Los Angeles with his maternal grandfather, Joseph Pletts, and his uncle, Bob Pletts.
By 1930, Ray, Ruby and little Ray had moved to Emerson Street in the unincorporated community of Garden Grove, and a daughter had been added to the family: Francis M. Starkey.
As a young man, Ray worked on his father's ranch, just off what is now Brookhurst St. It appears that sometime around 1938 Ray married a girl named Camille (no sign of them in the O.C. marriage records). The two of them were living on Emerson St. -- likely in a different house on the same property.
By 1940, Ray and Camille were living at 308 Frances St., in Garden Grove, and Ray was working for Miller Brothers Co., a business that ground chili peppers. The growing of chili peppers was a major industry in the area at that time. However, Ray's work in that field didn't seem to last long, and they were back on Emerson the following year.
For some reason, I can't find any military records for Starkey, but we know that by the time of the famous PT-109 incident, he was a Torpedoman's Mate, Second Class.
Ray doesn't appear in the 1947 Orange County Directory and did not file his military discharge papers here, but he eventually came back home.
In 1960, Ray got some publicity as the chairman of Citizens for Kennedy of Garden Grove. The photo below shows him giving campaign brochures to Mrs. Gerry Borok.
Three years later, the movie PT-109 hit the big screen, with Cliff Robertson in the role of JFK, (President Kennedy himself selected Robertson for the role), and with Sam Gilman portraying Ray Starkey.
Meanwhile, the real Ray Starkey was back living on Emerson Ave., and was an oil worker for Signal Oil Co. in Huntington Beach. His father had worked in the oil fields in the 1920s and '30s, so petroleum ran in the family.
That same year, Ray attended (as a VIP) the opening of a life-sized diorama from the film at Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park. (By the way, if you want to own part of that Movieland exhibit, it's available for sale.)
Ray L. Starkey died in Westminster on Oct. 8, 1970. His obituary in the L.A. Times said he was a resident of Santa Ana and continued,... "He leaves his wife, Mrs. Camille Waite of Capistrano Beach, two sons, George of Garden Grove and Ray of Las Vegas, a daughter, Mrs. Shirley Neighbors of Riverside, and four grandchildren."


Anonymous said...

My mom knew Ray Starkey before WWII.
They would jump off of Newport pier and he would tow her to the beach as she was not a swimmer. I wish I could remember more of what she told me.

Christian knowles said...

I think this is very cool thank you! My Great Grandfather is Raymond Starkey and my Great Grandmother is Camille and they had my Grandma Shirley who is the oldest of 3 kids! Grandma Shirley married my Grandpa J.L. Nabors and they had 2 kids the oldest is my Mom Debbie and then me the Oldest of 3 kids!I have heard the stories of the PT109 and find them very interesting but not heard all the little details so thank you again :)I just recently watched the PT109 movie for like the 20th something time with my mom the other night and still enjoyed it. Unfortunitly Grandma Camille passed away a couple of years ago and Grandma Shirley almost exactly a year after that!!!