Remembering a trailblazer: family reflects on SPAR’s legacy of service

Throughout her pioneering career as a service member, Becker’s accomplishments included becoming the first woman in the radio technician rate and later becoming an instructor for the rating.

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Story by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael White

Rosalen H. Becker, U.S. Coast Guard veteran and trailblazer for women’s equality, poses for an undated photo. At the height of World War II, Becker volunteered for the United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, known as Semper Paratus Always Ready or SPARs, where she became the first woman in the radio technician rating and ultimately advanced to radio technician 2nd class. (Photo courtesy of James P. Becker)

During the height of World War II, Rosalen H. Becker resolved to serve our country and defy convention by volunteering to support the war effort. She was among the first corps of women to enter the ranks of the U.S. Coast Guard. On January 20, 1943, Becker enlisted in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, known as SPARs (an acronym for Semper Paratus “Always Ready”).

Throughout her pioneering career as a service member, Becker’s accomplishments included becoming the first woman in the radio technician rate and later becoming an instructor for the rating. Becker ultimately advanced to radio technician 2nd class and served honorably until her discharge November 9, 1945. For her service, she was awarded the Victory Medal.   

Becker’s efforts broke down barriers to women’s equality and helped pave the way for others to follow. However, even before she was issued a uniform, it became clear that her commitment to promoting a culture change in the Coast Guard and equality for women would require persistence and mean confronting adversity and challenges.

Becker, writing in her personal memoir, described an encounter with a recruiter that illustrated her motivation to serve, her steadfast devotion to duty, and her unwavering resolution to becoming an agent of change:

“At the beginning of the war I went to work at the Remington Arms Plant. My fiancé was killed at the beginning of the war and I felt I should be doing more for our country. Finally, I took the step and went to the recruiting office of the Navy. A little seaman took my information with a scowl on his face. You could tell that he thought women had no place in his Navy. After filling out all the papers for the Navy, he said ‘maybe you would like the Coast Guard.’ I said that yes, I would like that. He had to start all anew. I’m happy he did.” 

Left
SPAR Rosalen H. Becker (left) with her sister and fellow SPAR Jesse G. Stewart in Norfolk, Virginia, April 1, 1945. Becker served from January 1943 to November 1945; Jesse served from September 1943 to November 1945. (Photo courtesy of James Becker)
 
Right
SPAR Rosalen H. Becker (right) and her sister and fellow SPAR Jesse G. Stewart, pose with Jesse’s husband Coast Guardsman Jack Stewart in Norfolk, Virginia, April 1, 1945.  The establishment of the SPARs showed legislative recognition of a democratic woman’s right to directly participate as members of the armed services in the joint war effort. (Photo courtesy of James P. Becker)

October 15, 2019 — just one day after her 100th birthday, Becker crossed the bar. She is survived by her two sons and two daughters.

During the military funeral honors ceremony performed for Becker, Lt. j.g. Maria Cielo Fishman of Coast Guard Sector New York presented James P. Becker, one of Rosalen’s sons and a U.S. Army veteran, with a folded American flag. 

James recalled how he felt this final salute was conducted in a most fitting way considering the unique character of his mother’s military service.

Rosalen H. Becker and her son James P. Becker pose for a photo to commemorate their participation together in an Honor Flight trip in recognition of Becker’s military service during World War II as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, known as SPARs, September 29, 2012. The mission of Honor Flight is to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honoring those who have served and sacrificed for our country. (Photo courtesy of James P. Becker)

“That was overwhelming for me,” said James. “I was so proud at that moment, and when they played taps and I saluted, and they all saluted, I just felt very proud of her, very proud of myself, and it was a great send-off.”

James also offered his thoughts concerning his mother’s decision to volunteer for wartime military service. 

“She didn’t have to,” he said. “She could have stayed home comfortably.  She was not afraid to act on her motivations.  I think she just looked at where she could do more than what she was doing,” said James. “She wasn’t forced to do it, but she felt compelled by her nature to want to do more in the war effort. She was very motivated, it was just her nature.  It’s the way she was.  She wanted to do it.”

Bill Becker, Rosalen’s other son, succinctly described his mother’s legacy in two words: “trailblazer” and “dedicated”. 

Bill reflected on the significance of his mother’s service in the women’s reserve. 

“Well, I knew there weren’t many women in World War II and she, like many other young people, male and female, she just wanted to do her duty, and serve her country during the war,” said Bill.  “It was a big effort.” 

Rosalen wrote of overcoming the resistance she experienced. 

“The men in uniform, at first, found it difficult to accept us but they did come to realize that we were an essential part.

Despite her remarkable efforts, Becker did not expect special recognition for her military service.

“She never really thought of it as groundbreaking,” said James. “She just thought of it as ‘I’m doing my part.’”

After completing her service with the Coast Guard, Becker continued to live a life of service reflecting the Coast Guard’s core values, through being a leader and role model for both the youth in her community and her family.

“She was very involved in the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts,” said James. “She was a district leader in the Girl Scouts. She went on to do quite a bit of volunteer work and she just liked being out doing things like that. “Whether the military did that or not, it’s hard to tell, but she had that nature to get involved in things, to want to get involved and be a part of something bigger.”

“I think the Coast Guard service probably gave her a sense of duty, a sense of service, a sense of family,” said Bill. “And she passed that along to us.”

Surrounded by family and friends, Becker’s life of service was celebrated on her 100th birthday.

During the event, Becker was presented with a New York City proclamation memorializing her lifetime of service. Additionally, members of Coast Guard Sector New York presented Becker with a Coast Guard ensign in recognition of the exemplary honor, respect, and devotion to duty she demonstrated both in military service and beyond. 

Rosalen H. Becker, U.S. Coast Guard radio technician 2nd class and trailblazer for women’s equality, celebrates her 100th birthday with service members from Coast Guard Sector New York, October 13, 2019. At the height of World War II, Becker volunteered for Semper Paratus Always Ready, better known as SPARs, the United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Harclerode)

Becker was delighted to see members of the Coast Guard at the event. 

“She knew right away that it was Coast Guard,” said Bill. “She could recognize the uniform and she just brightened right up. It was something to watch, how she reacted to that. “It’s a tribute to the Coast Guard that they honored my mom that way,” he added. 

“She was flattered by it,” said James. She was overjoyed and very overwhelmed.”

In her own written words, Becker best summarizes her story of service:

“My time in the Coast Guard was a great part of my life and I remember it fondly.” 

Becker’s historic contributions to the Coast Guard and her dedication to being an agent of change through service will never be forgotten. 

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