Written by Cmdr. Rick Wester.
The Coast Guard was saddened by the recent passing of a shipmate who was a true pioneer: Elfie Larkin, a former Coast Guard SPAR and World War II veteran. She was 100. At a time when the U.S. needed “all hands on deck,” Elfie answered the call like so many other American women and enlisted as a SPAR in 1943. The Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard was formed in 1942 and were named “SPARs,” an acronym taken from the Coast Guard’s motto “Semper Paratus – Always Ready.”
Following boot camp and initial training, Elfie served as a radio operator at the 9th Naval District in St. Louis, monitoring the maiden voyages of Naval vessels from shipyards in the Midwest region down the Mississippi River and out to sea. In 1944, Elfie shipped out to Hawaii, where she sent, received and decoded sensitive military messages critical to the war effort. At the end of the war in 1945 she was honorably discharged.
Elfie went on to serve as both a teacher and a volunteer docent at the Oakland Zoo for more than two decades. She also frequently traveled overseas.
Capt. Dorothy Stratton, the very first SPAR, recommended the term SPAR, stating “A spar is often a supporting beam and that is what we hope each member of the Women’s Reserve will be.”
In fact, at the Coast Guard’s peak personnel strength in 1944, more than one out of every 13 officers and one out of every 16 enlisted were female, the highest ratio of any of the nation’s armed services at that time.
SPARs served in 43 different specialties, providing critical depth to the U.S. military during a two-front world war that mobilized the entire country. Coast Guard cutters Spar and Stratton, a national security cutter, were named to honor the service of all SPARs.
“Because of shipmates like Elfie Larkin, the Coast Guard continued on its trackline to fully integrate women into active duty service,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp. “Her love of life and her important role in our heritage will never be forgotten.”
Prior to her passing, Larkin wrote “I have had a wonderful and happy life of which the United States Coast Guard played a big part in.”
Visit the U.S. Coast Guard historian’s page to learn more about Capt. Stratton, SPARs like Elfie Larkin and the history of women in the Coast Guard and it’s predecessor services.