Coast Guard History – SPARs

I wonder what it was like to be a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, a SPAR, during World War II…

To be one of the first female Guardians…

To be a part of a select group of women chosen to serve during a historic time…

To carve the path for future women in the Coast Guard…

Today Guardians will have the rare opportunity to sit down with 10 of the first 10,000 SPARs who volunteered to serve between 1942 and 1946. Vice Admiral Vivien Crea, the Vice Commandant and also a female trailblazer for women in the Coast Guard, invited SPARs from across the nation to come to Washington, D.C., this Thursday and Friday to talk with service members and attend the her Change of Watch ceremony.

On November 23, 1942 during World War II, legislation approved the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve to help fill jobs and free men to serve at sea and abroad. Women from all over the country jumped at the opportunity to do their part. They took the oath, attended training, wore the uniform and served in shoreside positions throughout the nation.

Last week, I had a chance to talk with a few of these amazing ladies before they set out from to make the trip to Washington, D.C.

One of the extraordinary conversations was with Betty “Lutz” Reed. When Betty first joined the SPARs, she was just 20 years old and a sophomore at Purdue University. After enlisting in December 1943, she was assigned as a Storekeeper First Class to the Navy Clothing Locker in New Orleans. At the end of the war, her unit became a Separation Center where she worked until being released from service, along with all the other SPARs, in June 1946.

During our conversation, Betty gave me a wonderful first-hand history lesson on where the term “SPAR” originated. Sure, I already knew the answer (I “Googled” it years ago), but a real life personal account is not something that happens all that often anymore. I was eager to hear the story from her.

Betty recalled that the leaders of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserves “wanted a catchy name like the WAVES.” The Naval Women’s Reserve, or WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, were other renowned uniformed women’s services during the war. She said that’s when Dorothy Stratton, the Director of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, came up with SPARs. Betty said, “SPARs came from the first four letters of the Coast Guard’s motto – Semper Paratus, Always Ready.”

I also spoke with Mary Lefmann, Beverly Funderburg and Elizabeth Harmon Augherton. Mary joined the SPARs in April 1944 and was assigned as Yeoman First Class at Air Station Elizabeth City. Beverly, also a Yeoman First Class, was assigned to the District Coast Guard Office in San Francisco but transferred to Coast Guard Repair Base in Woods Hole. When I asked Beverly when she served, she quickly and proudly recited her specific dates of service, “February 22, 1943 until May 7, 1946.” Elizabeth joined the Coast Guard in 1943 and served as a Yeoman Second Class at the Office of the Captain of the Port in New York City.

While talking with these ladies, their anticipation and excitement was evident. All four are looking forward to being among Guardians again and were thrilled about their invitation to come to Washington, D.C. When I asked Betty what she was most excited about she replied, “I have never gotten a letter from the Commandant before.” Betty is traveling from Indiana and has never been to the nation’s capital.

Mary, a Florida resident, said, “It has been so long since I heard from the Coast Guard. I am hoping to see someone I know.” She is also eager to attend the Vice Commandant’s Change of Watch ceremony, “I have never been to anything like that before.”

According to Beverly, a South Carolina resident, she is “excited to be among Coasties” and “happy to still be involved after all these years.” She added that she is “anxious to see the Commandant. I just think he is the greatest.”

Elizabeth, a native to the D.C. area, said, “I treasure the memories I made while serving in the Coast Guard and I’m finding that invitations to Coast Guard events, such as this one, are the highlight of my life at this age. I often joke with my family, that if I could, I would re-enlist today.”

These four ladies are among an elite and revered group of women who carved the way for future women of the armed services. This afternoon, Betty, Mary, Beverly, Elizabeth and six of their fellow SPARs will enjoy a private luncheon hosted by VADM Vivien Crea. Following lunch, the women will take part in a panel discussion with Coast Guard men and women to share their historical experiences. Tomorrow, the ladies will attend VADM Crea’s Change of Watch ceremony where she will be relieved by VADM David Pekoske as the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard.

And, speaking of elite and revered women, tune in to the blog tomorrow to read about the amazing contributions of VADM Crea, another true trailblazer for women in the Coast Guard.

UPDATE: Click here to watch the video of this SPARs discussion panel.

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