November 23, 1942, legislation was passed creating the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, also known as the SPARs. The SPARs were created to allow more men to be sent overseas, while the women tended to duties back home. Capt. Dorothy C. Stratton, former Dean of Women at Purdue University, was chosen from the Navy Women’s Reserves to be the director. Captain Stratton coined the acronym SPARs, which comes from the Latin and English translations of the Coast Guard’s motto, Semper Paratus! Always Ready!
More than 10,000 women volunteered to become SPARs between 1942 and 1946. The average enlisted applicants were single, 22 year old high school graduates, while the average officer applicants were single, 29 year old college graduates. In October of 1944 the Coast Guard allowed African-American females to enlist, and, if properly qualified, to earn the chance to become officer candidates. Basic training consisted of many different activities including classes, physical training and exams, and drilling. Classroom instruction included basic military indoctrination, Coast Guard history, nautical terms, and customs and courtesies. Training facilities included Oklahoma A&M, the Iowa State Teachers College , Hunter College , the Palm Beach Biltmore Hotel, and Manhattan Beach , NY .
Upon graduation from basic training, enlisted SPARs could specialize in a variety of rates, including Yeomen, Storekeeper, Parachute rigger, Air control-tower operator, Boatswain’s mate, Coxswain, Radiomen, or Pharmacist mate. Officers received the same specialized training along with additional leadership courses, taught at the Naval Reserve Midshipman School and the United States Coast Guard Academy , to prepare them for their roles as supervisors. The United States Coast Guard Academy thus became the first service academy to train women.
SPARs served throughout the United States . They were involved in both the traditional and non-traditional functions of the Coast Guard. For example, musically inclined SPARs were involved in a song and dance show which toured the country and ultimately inspired the movie “Tars and Spars” made in 1946. The SPARs were also involved with the then top secret LORAN program. In fact, the LORAN station in Chatham , Massachusetts was completely run by SPARs, which is believed to be the only women-run unit during the war. While the SPARs filled many important roles, they were not intended to be a permanent part of the Coast Guard and were demobilized on June 30, 1946 after four years of service.
USCGC SPAR (WLB 403) was named after the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. SPAR was built at Marine Iron and Shipbuilding in Duluth , Minnesota , was launched in November 2, 1943 , and then commissioned in June 12, 1944 . In addition to her primary duty of maintaining aids to navigation, SPAR’s missions included assisting in anit-submarine warfare along the coast of Brazil , a transit through the Northwest Passage , and completing an oceanographic charting expedition in the Northern Atlantic . She had four different homeports throughout her service: Boston , Massachusetts ; Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts ; Bristol , Rhode Island ; and South Portland , Maine . After serving the Coast Guard for 53 years, SPAR was decommissioned on February 28, 1997 .
The keel for USCGC SPAR (WLB 206) was laid on December 15, 1999 at Marinette Marine Shipyard in Wisconsin . SPAR was launched on August 12, 2000 . She made the trip from Marinette , Wisconsin to Kodiak , AK from March to June 2001 and was commissioned on August 3, 2001 . SPAR took Alaskan Aids to Navigation responsibility for the waterways of decommissioned USCGC IRONWOOD (WLB 297) and USCGC FIREBUSH (WLB 393). SPAR regularly sees duty throughout the Aleutian Chain, as far west as Adak , and in the Bering Sea , as far north as the Kuskokwim River .