Do you think the women who served during World War II 70 years ago realized the impact they would have on future generations of women to come? Do you think they thought their legacy would continue to this very day and for another 30 years to come?
“Some of the people I meet who learn I was a SPAR react as though those three years were all I ever accomplished. I find myself realizing they were really a major part of who I am today,” said Viola Dybdal Feyling, 91.
A group of about 50 Coast Guard SPARs are the center of attention this week as guests of honor for Saturday’s commissioning of the Coast Guard’s newest cutter, Coast Guard Cutter Stratton. The 418-foot, first-rate cutter is the third of its class and bears the name of Capt. Dorothy Stratton, the director of the first 10,000 enlisted women and 1,000 commissioned officers who joined the service during World War II.
Capt. Stratton knew the SPARs were significant during the war and for history, but did she realize her service and that of the SPARs would continue to impact the U.S. Coast Guard for the next 100 years? Since 1942 and for the next 30 years to come in the service of Cutter Stratton, their legacy lives on.
“We were proud to be among the first women in the Coast Guard. Our choice of jobs was limited. Now [women] have the opportunity to do everything required by the Coast Guard,” said Lois Guenette Bouton, 93.
In fact, women make up 22 percent of Stratton’s first crew including the executive officer.
“We were limited on the types of assignments during World War II. But, today women in the Coast Guard can choose every assignment available to men. Young women can advance all the way to Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy,” said Dorothy Eckhardt Showman, 91.
Cutter Stratton pays homage to a long line of female pioneers who followed in Capt. Stratton’s footsteps. Like Lt. j.g. La’Shanda Holmes, Petty Officer 1st Class Carrie Grady, Vice Adm. Vivien Crea, Chief Petty Officer Kristin Werner and Petty Officer 3rd Class Tonya Midgett.
“I am so proud that they have been able to stride through the door that we cracked open,” said Catherine Elizabeth McSweeney, 90.
With the doors wide open, some SPARs want to put the uniform back on.
“I enjoyed being a SPAR. I was proud to have been able to serve my country for three years. I just wish I was young enough to be a SPAR again,” said Frances E. Schriber, 90.
“One thing I regret is that I didn’t reenlist, it was a great service! I was so proud to be a SPAR. It was the greatest experience I ever had and I will never forget,” said Mary Schillace Allen, 89.
“Joining the Coast Guard was an excellent decision for me. I’ve always been proud of the Coast Guard. Their continuing work in today’s world gives me a thrill that I took the opportunity to serve as a SPAR,” said Phyllis Dorothy Larson, 88.
Margaret Beeler Oliver, 89, said she wouldn’t trade her years as a SPAR for anything.
“I found myself going to places I had just read about or saw in the movies. Those were great years,” she said, adding, “It was a little rough going around with short hair, when all the fashions were long hair, we would try so hard to let ours grow, but we always got caught at inspections.”
Congratulations SPARs for blazing the trails for the past 70 years, and congratulations to the crew of Cutter Stratton as you embark on a journey of your own.