EM3c Charles Starkovich

Charles Starkovich

EM3c Charles Starkovich

Brothers Joseph and Charles Starkovich were coal miners in Bellingham, Washington 80 miles north of Seattle when they left to enlist in the Navy on November 5, 1940. Charles completed his basic training at the San Diego Naval Training Station. 

A battleship, the U.S.S. Arizona, was being overhauled west of Seattle at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. The brothers joined the crew on Jan. 11, 1941 just before the ship left for a quick stop at her home port at San Pedro, California, and then for Hawaii.

Joe & Charles Starkovich
Brothers Charlie (left) and Joe (right) Starkovich

Both were killed on Dec. 7 in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Joseph was a fireman second class and Charles an electrician’s mate and petty officer third class.

They were the third and fourth of five sons of Joseph Starkovich Sr. and Anna Starcevic Starkovich. The parents were immigrants from Croatia. They married in 1910 in Roslyn, Washington, a coal mining town of about 3,000 in the central part of the state. Joseph Jr. was born less than two miles to the northwest in tiny Ronald, Washington on Feb. 4, 1915 and Charles was born in Roslyn on Nov. 3, 1916.

By 1920 the family had moved 140 miles west to another small settlement near where the father farmed – Humptulips south of Olympic National Park. But by 1930 they were in Bellingham and the father was back to work as a coal miner.

Joseph completed the 7th grade, while Charles graduated in 1937 from Bellingham High School, where he ran track. He briefly attended Western Washington College (now University) in Bellingham.

The spring 1940 Census showed that the parents were divorced, with Joseph and Charles living with their mother and two brothers. The youngest was in high school, but the three other brothers all worked at the coal mine, as did their father. The sons – including brother Fred — earned a combined $4,365 in 1939. That was a huge sum for young men during the Great Depression, equivalent to about $84,000 in 2022 dollars.

Years after their deaths, a friend and co-worker, Steve Francisco, said, “All those Starkovich boys were good workers. They would give you a day’s work for a day’s pay no matter how much money it came to.”

Other friends recalled that the brothers often talked about joining the Navy. “They wanted to see the world,” said a classmate, Pete Starkovich, no relation.

By the spring of 1942, when the Navy officially declared that Joseph and Charles were dead, their mother said she knew that her other three sons might be called to fight.

“We may all be in the war before long,” she said. “I would go right now if there was something I could do.”

At least two other sons did serve in the Navy — Fred from September 1942 to February 1945 and Harry (the youngest) from April 1944 through July 1945.

The Starkovich brothers and three other parishioners killed in the war were honored at a requiem high Mass in September 1943 at the Church of the Assumption. By then 90 more young men from the church were in the armed services.

Sources: The Bellingham (Washington) Herald; Census; military registration cards; Washington birth records; Navy muster rolls; Bellingham High yearbook; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs death file; petition for U.S. naturalization. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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