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  • Another brave role model this Veterans Day

    My mother’s other longtime Coast Guard friend, Harriet Wood Rogers, age 98, emailed after seeing my Oct. 28 op-ed, “Remembering my brave role models this Veterans Day.”

    Harriet is able to fill in even more details about their service during World War II in the SPARS, the women’s division of the U.S. Coast Guard, taking its name from the Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus – Always Ready.” 

    “We reported to Hunter College in the Bronx (upper Manhattan) for basic training (known as boot camp) with WAVES,” she wrote. “We were the last SPARS to train with them as a new facility was being built in Miami, Fla. All I recall of boot camp was a really short Marine screaming and shouting at us as we did drills. It was a first for me.

    “From there we took a Baltimore & Ohio ‘cow catcher’ to Stillwater, Okla. Took a week because we were routed via Canada on all the unused railroad tracks. We did not know where we were going, so it was scary. In Kansas City, for the first time we were allowed off the train. As luck would have it, at the station we ran into two Air Corps fellows from home and they told us where we were, but not our destination. We spent three months in Yeoman School at Oklahoma A&M.

    “After three warm, rainy, slippery, sloppy months in Oklahoma, so lonesome and delighted to be leaving Oklahoma, as our now more updated train neared Manhattan, I remarked that if I never saw or read about Oklahoma again, it would be just fine with me.  Up popped a huge billboard with just the word ‘OKLAHOMA’ on it. It was startling, confusing and funny. We laughed our heads off.

    “As it turned out, that musical was soon to be on Broadway.” Now back in Manhattan, “Not only did the three of us attend that dress rehearsal (and many others), we actually saw one of the first performances free. I don’t know about Betty and Marguerite, but that show and its catchy music was always special to me. 

    “My only claim to fame was typing secret orders for our 83-foot cutters and crew to proceed to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to board a freighter for transport to Plymouth, England. It was common knowledge that the team had been sent to Plymouth. What wasn’t known was, “Why Plymouth, England?”

    “So, came D-Day, and there were those CG cutters involved in the invasion. In recent years, courtesy of the internet, I have learned the huge part they played back then. I learned just how involved and courageous the CG was and is.

    “One more (story) and that’s it. We got paid once a month $120. Breakfast and dinner were at the Hotel Embassy on 70th Street. Lunch was on us. As month-end neared and $$$ was on the wane, we ate hot dogs @ 5 cents each at Chock Full of Nuts. At the very end of month, we ate dry sandwiches at the USO next to the Barge Office. Payday we ate at Child’s Restaurant with wait service.”

    Harriet told me that she’s being interviewed via phone and email by the Coast Guard’s Historian’s Office to create an oral history of her days as a SPAR. This will be included in the Veteran’s History Project at the Library of Congress. 

    What a gift to be able to hear these stories and acknowledge these WWII servicewomen on Veterans Day all these years later. “Semper Paratus,” Mom, Marguerite and Harriet!


    © Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

    @Ann M. Augherton