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102-year-old Coast Guard veteran honored

Seventy-five years ago, the SPARS were created to take the job of thousands of Coast Guardsmen who had to leave their posts to fight in World War II. 

Mabel Johnson was one of them – she enlisted in 1943 and was first sent to Cleveland.  The 102-year old returned Thursday for a visit.

Johnson traveled from Kansas for the visit.  With her son and daughter at her side, she was honored by Cleveland’s Coast Guard unit with a few songsfrom her time as a SPAR -- including one to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy.

"We're the women of the Coast Guard, we're the Yankee Doodle SPARS. The real live neices of our Uncle Sam, helping to win this war."

Hear two SPAR songs: "When a Coast Guard Girl Walks Down the Street" and "Yankee Doodle SPAR".

SPAR stands for Semper Paratus -- Always Ready.  Some 11,000 SPARS joined the Coast Guard during WWII – they started out doing administrative work, but eventually performed more operational tasks.

The SPARS were disbanded after the war, though some, including Johnson, continued to serve.  The legacy of these women still influences the agency today – even inspiring the name of the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR stationed in Kodiak, Alaska. 

102-year-old Coast Guard veteran honored

Rear Admiral June Ryan told Johnson as they met, “For us, you are like our Founding Father. It’s like the opportunity to speak and talk to George Washington, or Alexander Hamilton, who created the Coast Guard.”

During her Cleveland visit, Johnson plans to recreate one of her fondest memories – throwing ticker tape out of the 16th floor window of the Keith Building downtown to celebrate V-E day. 

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Mabel Johnson
Mabel Johnson

Reporter/producer Elizabeth Miller joined ideastream after a stint at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., where she served as an intern on the National Desk, pitching stories about everything from a gentrified Brooklyn deli to an app for lost dogs. Before that, she covered weekend news at WAKR in Akron and interned at WCBE, a Columbus NPR affiliate. Elizabeth grew up in Columbus before moving north to attend Baldwin Wallace, where she graduated with a degree in broadcasting and mass communications.