by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
“Being a SPAR was an experience I shall always remember.”
Gwen L. Boone Boston
Gwen L. Boone Boston, born 19 September 1923, spent her grade school years in Geneva, Ks. By 7th grade, her family moved to Emporia. She graduated from Roosevelt High School, located on the campus of the Emporia State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas.
She was profoundly affected by the bombing at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Gwen was 18, and she observed many of her close friends enlist “and disappear for unknown places so far away.” She later recalled that she “wrote many letters keeping in touch with them.”
She applied for a Civil Service job and worked for the U.S. Quartermaster Corps in Wichita, Ks.
As the war continued, she observed that “more and more women enlisting in various branches of service – the thought began to nag at me – why not enlist?” She and a close friend, Betty Greer, began looking at the options open to them.
“The Coast Guard recruiter was exceptional in wining and dining us and won us over. Next step, I had to have my parents approval as I was not yet twenty-one. Reluctantly they did sign and we were on our way to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to be sworn in on August 30, 1944.”
There were five girls from Kansas that boarded the train – one from Iola. one from Lindsborg two from Newton – Jane Lair and Barbara Jane (BJ) Durham,Gwen and her friend, Betty.
They arrived at West Palm Beach, Fl for training. Gwen described the training facility.
“Would you believe a former luxury hotel, the Biltmore… stripped down to the minimum and wooden bunks installed.”
“It was all very exciting and yet at the same time very frightening as we were not quite sure what to expect. All of our instructors . . . were male and it soon became apparent that we were not to be popular since it was obvious that we were qualified for duty only in the shore jobs and this released the male personnel for sea duty. . . . Since I was tall, I was always on the front row whenever we were in marching formation and . . . the first to get our of step . . and the first to be yelled at by the instructor.”
While Gwen was at training the weather was hot and humid. She experienced a hurricane noting;
“I can still see the coconuts flying as the men directed we gals to carry all the heavy typewriters and equipment to a room on higher ground.”
While in training, Gwen became sick with pneumonia and was confined to sick bay for about 10 days.
Because of her experience prior to enlisting as a secretary, Gwen was assigned Yeoman 2nd Class and sent to Morale Office at Manhattan Beach Coast Guard Training Station in Brooklyn, New York.
Gwen L. Boston SPARS uniform, 1941-1946.
There was time for fun. Gwen and a friend took in “the sights of New York City . . . and what fun we had — the Statue of Liberty . . . our first stop.” Other adventures included trying new foods, like salt water fish and attending stage plays like Oklahoma and South Pacific.
After a time, Gwen was transferred to the Department of Public Relations in the Coast Guard District Office in Philadelphia, PA. Here, she worked with promoting the Coast Guard using the news media. She recalled that she found “Philadelphia to be a very dull city, so I continued to return to New York by train to join my friends when granted those off duty passes.
Discharged from the Philadelphia base on 4 May 1946 with the rating of Yeoman First Class. She was awarded the American Area Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
While Gwen was in training in West Palm Beach, she met Richard “Dick” S. Boston, Jr. Dick was stationed at Melbourne, Florida with the Navy Air Force. During the war Dick flew the F6F Hellcaat aircraft aboard carriers in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Gwen and Dick married in Emporia, Ks in 1946. In 1954, the family moved to Newton, Ks. Gwen worked as a legal secretary, and Dick as a CPA in Newton. They had 3 children.
Semper Paratus-Always Ready.”
Semper Paratus–Always Ready” was the motto for the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, known as SPARS, which was created 23 November 1942. Women were trained in many Coast Guard jobs, mostly clerical tasks, so that they “could release a man to sea.”
Training centers were located Oklahoma A& M, Hunter College, Iowa State Teachers College, and the Bitmore Hotel in Palm Beach, Fl.
Follow the below link for a recruiting film for the SPARS.
“You won’t be an Admiral,but you can be his secretary.“
By the end of the war, there was no long need for SPARS and the program ended.
- Newton Kansan; 9 April 2002, Gwen Boston Obituary
- “Gwen L. (Boone) Boston” in Memories of War Years: Memories of the Veterans of Harvey County, Ks. Curtis Media, Inc. 1995.
- Lagan, Christopher. “History: The Women’s Reserve, America’s Backbone” 4 April 2010.