Video by Amber Dupree
The youngest of three boys, Rupert “Twink” Starr was born and raised in Mt. Sterling, Ohio. His father was the village dentist and his schoolteacher mother taught home economics and world history at the local high school. Little did they all know then that Twink himself would soon become part of American history, fighting in one of this country’s most brutal, infamous and deadly battles.
Twink graduated from high school in 1940 and was admitted to Ohio University to study Business Administration and also joined the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps). As World War II continued to swallow up much of the whole world, just six months before he was to graduate, in January of 1945, Twink decided to enlist voluntarily into active duty with the Army.
After completing Infantry School at Ft. Benning, he was assigned to 101st Infantry Division as a 2nd Lt.
Within two weeks, he had shipped out to London, England where he and his fellow soldiers waited with anticipation for their supplies and, more urgently, to find out exactly where they were headed.
The news came soon enough. They were headed to the “Battle of the Bulge”.
On December 16th, 1944, in the aftermath of the successful D-Day Allied invasion of Normandy, Hitler and his army launched a massive, but desperate offensive through the thick, deep, dark forests of the Ardennes region in an attempt to capture Antwerp, Belgium and its highly valued harbor.
The Americans had been taken completely by surprise and Hitler’s forces split the American forces line outward almost in two, thus the “Bulge”. Subzero temperatures and chest deep snow had made the fight even more dangerous and difficult. Cloudy, snowy skies had all but halted Allied air missions and air cover for troops.
By January of 1945, American was sending as many troops as possible to reinforce the Allied forces who were in a desperate situation. Twink was one of those soldiers who would be counted on to turn the tide of a battle to the winning side for the Allies.
Twink was sent in to the Ardennes region in Belgium with the 106th Infantry, in a rifle platoon, to relive the 2nd Infantry Division that had been fighting without relief for over a month and stationed just opposite of the German front lines.
Then it was mentioned to one of his superiors that he had studied Business Administration in school. The Colonel of his division needed a Regimental Personnel Liaison Officer and Twink’s university training would provide just the skills needed. Twink was pulled from the front and placed at Division Headquarters some 30 miles away. There he was tasked with overseeing over 22 Sergeants and essentially given the job of a Captain.
“My education may have well saved my life, ” Twink admits.
But he didn’t stay behind the lines for long.
One morning, Twink was informed that the Division Headquarters had lost communications with the 106th. He was ordered to “get out there and see what happened”. He hopped in his jeep with his driver and headed out towards “suicide ridge”, towards the front line. Bullets flew and whizzed past their heads and over their shoulders as they traveled the 30 miles distance to the supposed location of the regiment.
Twink found the 106th and communication was restored. But news came back quickly that now the German were marching towards Division Headquarters and the 106th was now mobilizing to go back to their defense. They left the next morning.
By the next evening, Germans had surrounded their regiment and communications were cut off again. At “Officer’s Call” that night, the Colonel asked for a volunteer to sneak past German enemy lines to get to Division Headquarters and let them know that relief would not be coming as planned. No one volunteered. Except Twink. He would later be awarded a Bronze medal and an Combat Infantry Badge for his bravery at this moment.
He started back in the dead of night, staying off the roads and traveling in the brush and woods under cover of darkness. He hadn’t eaten for 3 days except for half a D-Ration that he’d shared with another soldier.
After a day of very slow going, the next evening he ran into the US 7th Armor Division and stayed with them for the night. But from the hill where they camped, Twink could soon see the path of approaching Germans. They were trapped.
In the middle of the night, their Commander informed them that they were surrounded and that they had official permission to surrender.
“I’m not surrendering,” Twink announced defiantly and headed out of the camp, searching desperately for an escape of any kind.
Within fifteen minutes German soldiers captured him.
Rupert “Twink” Starr was now a prisoner of war.
In the morning, his German captors started walking their prisoners back from Belgium to Germany. In six days, Twink he had eaten only 2 baked potatoes and half a D-ration. Then, the Germans placed their American prisoners in “Forty and Eight” boxcars (originally meant to carry 40 men or 8 horses) jamming them full of 100 men on each car.
Twink remembers it being so crowded in the car, that he and three other soldiers had to take turns, one at a time, going down on their haunches, just to give their legs a few moments to rest. Twink spent 8 days in the dark, putrid, suffocating boxcar with 99 other men…without any food or water. He says he only remembers the first 4 days and the 8th day…but has no recollection of the other ones. He suspects he was unconscious.
Eventually they ended up in at a German prison camp in Pozna?, Poland and then at OFLAG 64, another prison camp near Dresden. All in all, Twink would spend nearly 4 months in German prison camps.
In February 1945, the Russians began their offensive and after several months, were quickly closing in on Hitler’s Army. As a result, the Germans started walking Twink and their prisoners BACK to Germany, returning from whence they came in hopes of escaping the Russians. It was 30 degrees below zero, deep snow and all Twink had to wear was a light field jacket, GI issued pants and a pair of woolen mittens. Nevertheless, he and his fellow prisoners walked from Poznan, Poland back into east Germany.
Once there, the Germans suddenly and without a word, left them behind and fled the approaching Russian Army.
Freedom at last.
However, the Russians packed them up again in boxcars and shipped them back through Poland to Russia where they were eventually picked up by the English and finally…finally delivered home to America.
610,000 American forces took part in the Battle of the Bulge with 100,000 casualties including 19,000 killed. It was the largest and some say, the bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II.
Twink would go on to graduate from Ohio University in 1946 and begin a long and very successful career in real estate under the tutelage of John Galbreath. He would serve as President of the Columbus Board of Realtors and senior advisory positions on many business and civic organizations in Columbus. He also served with the Log Cabin Republicans and is a long-time member of the First Congregational Church UCC Columbus..
In 1954, Twink met interior designer Allan Wingfield and they spent the next 53 years together, deeply in love. Alan passed in 2007 at the age of 80.
Twink would also serve mightily as an LGBT activist appearing in the documentary film “Courage Under Fire” by Patrick Sammon that would advocate powerfully and effectively for the repeal of DADT.
In 2009, Twink Starr was honored as the Grand Marshall of the Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade for his activism and dedication to his country.
At 92, Rupert “Twink” Starr remains a dynamic and inspiring force in the Columbus LGBT community and a serves as a role model for new generations of LGBT young people.
“Every day from now on is a free day,” Twink remembers saying to his mother after he returned safely home from World War II. “And I am going to do something worthwhile, accomplish something… every day. Every single day.”
And that he does.
……still looking dapper and still with a twinkle in his eye.