Remembering The SPAR’s
During WWII it is often noted that while the men were overseas fighting the Axis powers, women picked up the slack at home and became the backbone of America during wartime. There were WAVES, WACS and WAF’s! Rosie the Riveter became the symbol of women in the American workforce pitching in to make anything and everything from canteens to B-29 bombers and more. However, there is a little known chapter of WWII history worth noting that was of particular service to the U.S. Navy abroad and The Coast Guard in the continental U.S.
Their name was a combination that came from the Latin and English translation of the Coast Guard motto, “Semper Paratus” or “Always Ready”. Using the first letter of each word they were known as the S.P.A.R.’s. The suggestion came from the director of the SPAR’s, Captain Dorothy C. Stratton. These were the members who made up the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard during WWII. The goal was to free up the sea-ready men of the Coast Guard for duty as the threat of German U-Boats in the Atlantic was on the rise. The SPARS would take over their jobs on the home front. Most duties filled were clerical in nature and at first these women only served in the continental U.S. Later, when the need for specialization became necessary, the women were allowed to station in Hawaii and Alaska; and to advance in rank and skill set. The women took advantage of the new ranking policy and the SPAR women studied frequently and advanced quickly. Often they would go out of their way to hide their badges of advancement from their male counterparts as there were men who went unrated for long periods of time and they didn’t want show them up. In his book, Three Years Behind The Mast, Commodore J.A. Hirschfield, USCG writes, the SPARS asked no favors and no privileges. They did their jobs with enthusiasm, with efficiency, and a minimum of fanfare. The USCG was fortunate in having the help of the SPARS who volunteered for duty when their country needed them, and carried the job through to a successful finish.
Other than clerical, they were also responsible for parachute rigging, driving vehicles, radio operations, lab technicians, nursing and cooking. One of the most intriguing duties that the SPAR’s engaged in was that of operators of a highly secretive and new technology called LORAN (Long Range Aid to Navigation) which tracked and calculated the precise location of ships and aircraft at sea. A unique aspect of the LORAN chapter was of the station in Chatham, Massachusetts, which is believed to be (during that era) the only communications unit with an all female staff.
Being 1942, there were some families that were appalled at the notion of their daughters signing up for military duty, some even unsupportive. However, these women felt the sting of the attack on Pearl Harbor like every American citizen at the time and had the desire to help the war effort any way they could. A young Eveyln Beckman (Brown) of Fort Wayne, Indiana was the eldest daughter of four children… all girls. “Since my family didn’t have a son to send to the war, I thought I should go.” She was eager to sign up and eventually travelled to Chicago and enlisted. Being a SPAR meant commitment. Enlistment was “duration-plus-six”. Translated to mean they were enlisting for the duration of the war, plus six months. On average, an enlisted SPAR was 20-29 years old, a high school graduate and had 2-3 years experience in a clerical or sales job. The majority of the training took place over six weeks in Palm Beach, Florida, though other facilities in different states were used as well. Cadets would undergo not only training but also testing in order to classify them for duty based on abilities, backgrounds and interests. Officer candidates usually had to have at least 2 years of College completed and civilian experience in fields related to the needs of the Coast Guard.
At its peak, there were approximately 12,000 members of the SPAR program scattered in Coast Guard facilities across the nation, including Hawaii and Alaska.
The SPAR’s were short lived and by the end of 1946 the U.S. Government de-activated the program (it would be reactivated in 1965.) Later the USCG would name two cutters in honor of the SPAR’s. One of the last SPAR’s Evelyn Beckman-Brown typed her own discharge papers on June 20th, 1946, “I wanted to stay, but unlike male servicemen who were offered the opportunity to re-enlist, we women were told we had to get out.” However, these women paved the way with their service and strong legacy, opening doors to later generations of women serving in every branch of the military today.
This article was made possible by American Veterans Aid, Inc. This private organization helps Veterans and their spouses from WWII, Korea and Vietnam to receive a little know benefit called Aid & Attendance. Aid & Attendance is designed to reduce the financial burden of long term care costs and help those eligible and in need of assistance for daily living activities such as bathing, dressing and general functions. A Veteran under 65, who may be permanently disabled, may also be eligible for this benefit. There are no age requirements for a surviving spouse, but there are some eligibility requirements. To find out more information, go to: American Veterans Aid, Aid & Assistance benefit.