Petty Officer Second Class Elfie E. Hanson, USCG - SPARS
Service Years: 1943 - 1945
As told in her interview:
Where did you enlist and why?
I worked in the public schools. I was a teacher. One day a friend brought in a pamphlet about the SPARs. I was always very patriotic. I loved America. I loved the idea of being in a uniform. I used to wear clothes that resembled a uniform. In college I had a blue dress and I put a class patch on it so it could look like a uniform!
Back to the SPARs – after I read the pamphlet, I said, “That’s for me!” I called the Recruiting office on Pine Street in New York City. The office registered WAVES and SPARs. I signed all the papers and went back to teaching. On March 3, 1943, I was summoned to active duty.
Where did you go to boot camp? How was it?
I went to Hunter College for boot camp. I had a terrible case of strep throat. I knew if it wasn’t gone, I wouldn’t be allowed to join the SPARs. I told myself I am going to get to Hunter College and the U.S. Coast Guard Boot Camp.
I chewed aspirin all night and into the morning. My father took me to Hunter College, because I was too sick to ride the train. He told me, “Once you are there, no one is coming to get you.” I continued to chew aspirin until we drove up to the college. When we got there, thankfully I was better.
We were put into apartments outside of the college. There were four women to the room. My roommates were three girls from Michigan. I was 31 years old. All of the other girls in my platoon were much younger than me. They were eighteen, nineteen, and twenty years old.
The first thing they gave us was our shots. All the other girls got very sick. I did not get sick at all. It may have had something to do with all the aspirin I took. After the shots we began marching. The WAVES, SPARs and USMC women marched in different directions, in unison, and marched. It was winter. The ground was frozen and despite all of our marching, our feet almost froze!
We learned to eat within 10 minutes. Breakfast was a paper carton of corn flakes, milk, and a cup of coffee. I was always a slow eater. My first day there I was surprised that we had to get up to march so soon that I hadn’t finished my breakfast, so I decided to take my coffee with me. I was immediately pulled out of the line and “…ordered to get rid of the coffee!” I was shocked by this command. It was very cold and I told them I didn’t even get a chance to finish my breakfast.
Marching was mostly what we did. When they didn’t know what to do with us, they told us to march. Once when Mayor La Guardia came to inspect the troops. Several thousand girls were new and did not have the marching pattern memorized. It was such a mess that after he left several thousand girls marched on that frozen ground. Their feet froze. We were told a very famous tennis player created the marching pattern program. He taught that program to the military and we marched and exercised to his program.
What was your training?
After boot camp I received training to serve as a Radioman. I went to school at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. We took an old coal rail car to get there.
At Radio School I learned ‘Morse Code’ and I quickly learned that I loved the radio. I rated the highest in the class! We had to work harder than the men. We had to prove we could do the job!
Would you tell me about your duty stations and work?
My first assignment was in St. Louis, Missouri. We took a train there. We kept the windows closed during the entire trip. When we were about an hour outside of St. Louis, a SPAR opened the windows several rows in front of me. The fresh air smelled wonderful and we were shocked to see how dirty our uniforms got from all of the soot. Our uniforms were black! We laughed a lot about this misadventure, however, it was a lesson learned.
At the 9th Naval District I helped monitor the maiden voyages of LST’s (Landing Ship, Tank) and submarines as they made their way from Wisconsin down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone worked very long hours, seven days a week. This was an important job. No one wanted espionage to occur while they were on watch.
In 1944, I was transferred to Honolulu, Hawaii, and then to Hilo, Hawaii, where I worked in the post office using teletext. In both places I worked in a “Top Secret” capacity. There were mostly guys working with me. One day after a long watch I was scheduled to return to a second watch. I didn’t realize how tired I was at the end of my second watch. I heard an odd sound coming into the room. When I couldn’t locate the sound or figure out what it was, I hit the “ALARM.” I hit it over and over again and everyone thought we were in critical danger. In review, I learned the alarm should only be hit once! Boy did I get teased a lot for hitting that alarm. My next position was receiving and decoding messages sensitive to the Pacific War Effort.
When the war ended I received an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard. I returned to New Jersey where I used the G.I. Bill to attend the Melville Aeronautical Radio Engineering School. My work experience as a SPAR and my love of my work as a radioman led me to think it would be easy for me to get a job as a radio operator—maybe even on a ship. After graduation from the school I was told, “Women are not radio operators onboard ships.” Eventually I decided to return to teaching.
I would absolutely recommend that young women serve in the military. It creates discipline and offers opportunity to get skills you otherwise might not get.
“We had a job to do and we did it.” I didn’t do everything great. I just did my job and it helped with the War Effort. I loved it and if I could I would do it again in a heartbeat! I was so proud to be in the SPARs.
Ms. Elfie (Hanson) Larkin died on June 16, 2012, in Oakland, California.
This is a link to a short video honoring Ms. Elfie Larkin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCBHHmNr_3c