UPDATE: The spelling of Vice Adm. Jody Breckenridge’s name was corrected in paragraph eight.
Written by Chief Petty Officer Sarah Foster, 11th Coast Guard District.
At the Oakland Zoo, where Elfie Larkin volunteered as a docent for more than 32 years following her World War II service in the Coast Guard, she encountered a surprise late in the afternoon.
More than 160 people surrounded the sprightly centenarian to celebrate her 100th birthday. She was absolutely thrilled at the surprise celebration held in her honor.
“Oh…I’m so amazed there’s so many people here,” she cried. “This is the proudest moment of my life.”
Larkin is in remarkably good health as one of the country’s approximately 53,000 centenarians and as one of the less than 2 million World War II veterans remaining. Yet more endearingly, Larkin enjoys her role as one of the elite group of military trailblazers – the SPARs – the first generation of women to be integrated into the Armed Forces. She signed up in 1943 and was honorably discharged at the end of the war in 1945. When in good company with her fellow SPARs and with her Coast Guard family at military events, she eagerly shares her wonderful memories of when she served, telling them with much love and humor.
“If you visited the Oakland Zoo at least once since 1977, you may have met one of the first and most beloved docents at the zoo, Elfie Larkin,” wrote Macarthur Metro news staff writer Larry Laverty in a tribute to Larkin. “And if you followed the advancement of women professionally in our society and especially here in the Bay Area, you might have met the dedicated woman of service to others, a veteran of the United States Coast Guard who served actively during World War II: Elfie Larkin.”
The birthday celebration also coincided with the Pearl Harbor Day survivor event at Coast Guard Island in Alameda, a few miles below her Oakland Hills neighborhood. Her Pearl Harbor connection came two years after the attack, when she was stationed in Mauna Loa Ridge on the island of Oahu as a radio operator. During her short stint there, she saw the remnants of Pearl Harbor’s devastation that made her sad, but stirred her patriotism.
“It was a mess,” recalled Larkin. “I’ve always been patriotic and I love my country; it made me even prouder to serve to help make a difference.”
With her Coast Guard family present, a color guard kicked off the celebration, followed by the showering of gifts by family and friends. From the Coast Guard, Master Chief Petty Officers Leilani Cale-Jones and Charles Bushey and retired Vice Adm. Jody Breckenridge presented her with a flag flown from Coast Guard Cutter Stratton – a ship named for Capt. Dorothy Stratton, the first woman accepted in to the Coast Guard in 1942.
“Thank you for being my friends and for making my life happy,” said Larkin after she blew the single candle on her birthday cake. “You are the reason why I have come to be 100 years old…you are the people that matter and mean so much to me.”
Surrounded by the love of those whose lives she touched, the formula to Elfie Larkin’s longevity is no secret. She lived a life “gifting” everyone around her with love and passion for learning as an educator, joyfully teaching about the natural world as a docent for the zoo, and making a difference during war serving in the military.