Chester Martin Remembers Louie Starnes

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Louie Starnes was the husband of my first cousin, Doris Martin. They were married for an almost incredible 67 years! Louie was born at Guntersville, Alabama and spent all his early life there. Living near the waters of Guntersville Lake he grew up loving to fish - a past-time he enjoyed all his life. His good up-bringing and personal character qualified him well to be a member of America's "Greatest Generation".

Louie went to work for TVA in its early days after graduating from high school.

TVA sent him to up-state New York where he first got involved in surveying. He soon got drafted into the Army where he was able to continue his surveying skills. He was sent to the University of Kentucky at Lexington for intense surveying and engineering training - the equivalent of two years of college compressed into a few short months.

In WW2, Louie served as an Army Technician 5, which is the equivalent of Corporal. He was stationed in the jungles of Burma, primarily surveying for landing airstrips which were created in conjunction with the famous "Burma Road" supply line. There he saw, and was around, everything you think about when you think of "jungles" - including pythons and other poisonous snakes, and other nasty varmints! There he also tripped over a live "booby-trap" set by the Japanese, but the grenade most fortunately did not detonate. He was thankful to the Good Lord for a lifetime about that fact!

Louie went back to TVA in Chattanooga after the war, and after being honorably discharged from the Army. He was placed in their "Maps and Surveys" department, which was located in the old Pound Building on East 11th Street;  that department was highly compatible with his training as surveyor and engineer. There he worked under the highest level "Top Secret" security clearance issued by the U.S. Government. Not even his wife or family had the slightest hint of what he worked on, and it was only years later that his son, Randy, was able to deduce that it involved satellite and aerial photography of lands behind the former "Iron Curtain".

About 1965, the Maps and Surveys department held an "open house" to reveal to the public what work was being done there - but it was all a ruse to hide the Top Secret work by only showing domestic work. The public came away with a very skewed picture of what really went on. My wife was working in the same department at the time, and I remember it well.

When Louie met Doris, I believe I have heard that both were "otherwise" involved. But it was irrevocably "love at first sight" for them. They were soon engaged and married. I was a few years their junior, but distinctly remember how comfortably Louie fit into the life of our family. They were so close that I cannot say either of their names without wanting to say the other!  I do not think Louie ever met a stranger and always presented a very "even" disposition. Doris and Louie lived first in an apartment on Cameron Hill and later built their own house (by hand!) on a fine corner lot in Brainerd. Louie had many skills and abilities and even helped his father-in-law build a new home in south Walker County. After retirement, Louie became a professional driver for one or more auto dealerships, and did free-lance work as a surveyor. Thus he continued to be a contributor to society for many years.

Louie was also very much into music and photography - along with his fishing interests. He liked to jam with his brother-in-law, James L. Martin (of Marietta), and the earliest color movies of the family were made by him about 1950.

Doris and Louie had the "ideal" family, of two children - a girl, Carol Elaine (who married Bobby Higdon), and who is employed by Unum, and a son, Randall (Randy) Louis Starnes, who married Rebecca (Becky) Carpenter. Randy held a very high position with State Farm Insurance at Bloomington, Ill., and is now retired.

Doris and Louie Starnes were longtime members of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. Louie died at age 92!

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )

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