Living Memories: A SPAR’s Story

Dorothy Howard served in the Coast Guard Women's Reserve from November 1943 to February 1946. Courtesy Photo

Dorothy Howard served in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve from November 1943 to February 1946. Courtesy Photo

The Coast Guard has a long and storied legacy. Part of that legacy is the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, the SPARs, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nov. 23, 1942.

The Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus,” and its English translation, “Always Ready,” were abbreviated to SPAR, which became the official nickname for the Women’s Reserve.

Dorothy Howard, now Sauter, was one of those women who decided to raise her right hand, swear the oath of enlistment, and serve her country.

“Everybody was talking about our country and wanting to help,” said Dorothy, recounting what was going through her head when the war began. “I just thought I can get in there and do the work that needs to be done for the fellas that have to go over.”

Before she enlisted, Dorothy was a volunteer at the local USO along with some other women. It was her work at the USO that led her to consider joining the armed forces.

Dorothy Sauter, a SPAR who served from 1943 to 1946, gets kissed by _________ and __________.

Dorothy Sauter, a SPAR who served from 1943 to 1946, gets kissed by her daughters Debbie and Patti at the Springfield, Missouri, Veteran’s Day Parade, Nov. 7, 2015. Dorothy was the first woman who served in World War II to be included in the Springfield Veteran’s Day Parade. Courtesy Photo.

“There were three of us that worked in the office in Milwaukee,” said Dorothy. “The three of us went out for lunch one day and we were just talking about the USO and everything and one of them said, ‘You know, why don’t we just go ahead and join a service and get in there?’ We thought, ‘Oh, that sounds like fun.’”

The chatter of the girls talking played as the background music as Dorothy had service options race through her mind. Tired of the Wisconsin cold, she wanted something different. She knew both the Army and Navy boot camps were in cold regions, leading her to look into the Coast Guard.

“I found out that if I joined the Coast Guard as a SPAR, I could go down to Florida and I thought that sounds like a vacation almost,” said Dorothy. “We were kind of ignorant about what was going to come up from something like [joining the service].”

The beginning of Dorothy’s journey in serving her country started on a train. A train that sped her from the cold of the north to the heat of the south.

She arrived at the Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, in November 1943, where she stayed for six weeks. The Palm Beach Biltmore was the southern location for SPAR enlisted training.

Reveille was at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast. The women then had a full day of classes, which included Coast Guard history, physical education, military classes on customs and courtesies, rates and ranks, and nautical terms.

They also learned how to march, a lot.

“We did a lot of marching,” Dorothy laughed.

After completing boot camp, Dorothy took another train. This time the train took her to Norfolk, Virginia, where she was introduced to her first unit. There, she spent a little over a year working in the yeoman rate, completing office work.

Bob Sauter and Dorothy Howard enjoy a day at Central Park, New York City, January 1945. Courtesy Photo

Bob Sauter and Dorothy Howard enjoy a day at Central Park, New York City, January 1945. Courtesy Photo

While stationed in Norfolk it wasn’t all work, but that’s where Dorothy met her husband, Bob Sauter, also a Coast Guard yeoman. Bob helped to train the SPARs who came in to replace the men.

“We just enjoyed working together and all of a sudden he invited me out to get something to eat or go to the park on a Sunday afternoon if we were off,” said Dorothy fondly at the memory of Bob asking her on a date. “He was just a really nice person; very, very nice.”

Dorothy and Bob worked together in Norfolk for about a year before Bob was transferred to a 210-foot cutter on the west coast.

Shortly after Bob was transferred, Dorothy was assigned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where she was put to work as a switchboard operator.

Despite being separated by the needs of the Coast Guard, Dorothy and Bob were still able to see each other on occasion, whenever his boat pulled into port in New York. The ability to see each other on those rare occasions helped to keep their kindled romance stoked.

Dorothy’s time in Brooklyn was a new experience for her, one she says she greatly enjoyed.

“It was something new to me and I just enjoyed it,” said Dorothy. “It wasn’t like I had to do anything strenuous or anything that I didn’t like to do. It was strictly office work that I was doing. Sometimes there would be a group of us get together and go out to eat or hang around together.”

Unfortunately, many SPARs were treated poorly by other military members; however, Dorothy mentioned her experiences were only positive.

“I never ran up against anyone that was mean,” said Dorothy. “The officers treated us very well. They would come in the office and thank me for this or that.”

Women in uniform often had to deal with being looked down upon and overcome the insulting view the public had of them. Luckily, Dorothy never received any of the degrading insults other women had.

“I didn’t have any problems with people at all making remarks about women being in the service,” said Dorothy. “They would ask me what I did, and I told them I just took over a man’s job in the office. And they just thought that was OK. I never had anyone make any remarks to me about anything.”

Bob and Dorothy Sauter celebrate an anniversary together. Courtesy Photo

Bob and Dorothy Sauter celebrate their 39th anniversary together, May 11, 1985. Bob and Dorothy were married 50 years before Bob passed away in 1996. Courtesy Photo

What began as just another workday ended up being a day that would always remain with Dorothy the rest of her life, the end of the war. The announcement of the end came as a surprise to many, including Dorothy.

“I was so happy to hear it was over because I could see my brother again, and of course Bob would come home,” Dorothy said with a sly smile. “It was a marvelous surprise! Everybody was just so happy to have everybody coming home.”

Of course, Dorothy had another reason to be excited about the war ending.

She transitioned out of the Coast Guard in February 1946, shortly followed by Bob transitioning out that April.

The following month, Dorothy and Bob were married.

“That was something to look forward to,” said Dorothy. “I had to wait for a little while, but that was good.”

The Coast Guard has touched the lives of many people. Dorothy and Bob’s stories have become intertwined with the multitude of stories that make up the notable legacy of the Coast Guard. A legacy still being written because of the people choosing to serve their nation.

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