, Salem, MA


March 26, 2014

Column: Remembering Salem's role in introducing women to the Coast Guard


After the war, in 1946, the SPARS concluded their tour of duty at the Air Station and returned to civilian life. The Coast Guard men threw a farewell party for them on May 10. Lt. Dorothy C. Stratton, commanding officer of the SPARS in Washington, D.C., helped publish a book about the SPARS’ experiences titled “Three Years Behind the Mast.” In the book’s introduction, she wrote:

“This book is ours — written for all of us by some of us. Those talented ones of our number who have created it, have made permanent for us those fleeting memories and impressions of the past 40 months that will always be set aside in our minds and hearts as a very special period in our lives. The fun, hard work, the dearness of associations, the despairs and frustrations, the satisfactions of the job, the seriousness of purpose, and the immense pride in being even a small part of the Coast Guard are all here ... Our ‘Three Years Behind the Mast’ have been a never-to-be-forgotten experience we shall always cherish. A hearty wish for smooth sailing goes with our final salute and our ‘By Your leave, Sirs’ as we bow out of your gallant company.”

Commodore J. A. Hirshfield of the U. S. Coast Guard also contributed to “Three Years Behind the Mast,” writing:

“Most of us — perhaps grudgingly — were agreeable to giving SPARS a chance. It would have been pure folly not to recognize the need for women in service. We were up to our teeth in a two-front war, which was making tremendous demands on everything, particularly manpower. American production was getting into stride. We were in danger of reaching the critical position of having insufficient men to wield the tools of our arsenal of democracy. The SPARS asked no favors and no privileges. They, like most Americans, knew there was a job to be done and they went to work ... With enthusiasm, with efficiency, and with a minimum of fanfare, these young women began to take over.”

Salem author Bonnie Hurd Smith’s book on Coast Guard Air Station Salem, with Nelson Dionne, will be published in June 2014.

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