Florence Manchester Smith took an oath to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard 79 years ago and has remained connected to the service ever since. Smith is a World War II veteran and Jonesport, Maine native, celebrating her 100th birthday with Coast Guard Sector Northern New England and Station Jonesport members Sep. 29.
At Station Jonesport, Smith received a letter of appreciation and a coin from Adm. Linda Fagan, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Capt. Amy Florentino, Cmdr. Megan Drewniak, and Command Master Chief Petty Officer Daniel Morales from Sector Northern New England, located in Portland, Maine, traveled to Jonesport to honor and celebrate the centenarian’s contributions to the Coast Guard.
“Without the women who came before, I would not be where I am today,” said Florentino, commander Sector Northern New England. “We owe them a debt of gratitude, and I am so glad that we were able to pay tribute to Ms. Smith.”
In December 1943, Smith enlisted in the Coast Guard SPARs, the all-female workforce that was mobilized during World War II. SPARs, an acronym of the Coast Guard's motto - Semper Paratus, Always Ready, served in various shore-side roles on the home front, which freed up men to fight abroad and at sea. SPAR Manchester was one of more than 10,000 women who volunteered for service between 1942 and 1946.
Smith was one of nine members of her family to join the Coast Guard and the first SPAR from Jonesport. She was inspired to join the SPARs by how the women looked in their uniforms. However, a newspaper article published in The Bangor Daily News documented her enlistment ceremony and quoted her saying:
"My brother Frank had his ship burned out from under him somewhere in North Atlantic waters. He wants to go back to sea again. Why can't I take his place on a shore job, so he can go? He has been working as a mail clerk. That's something I can do. That's what SPARs are for, isn't it? To release men for sea duty?"
Smith's first assignment was in a Palm Beach bakery, and then she was transferred to Boston to transcribe confidential paperwork as a confidential clerk. She served for about a year before she married her husband and fellow Coast Guardsman and Jonesport native, Philmore Smith. At the time, married women could not serve in the military.
She received a convenience discharge along with 54 dollars, and remained connected to the Coast Guard station in Jonesport ever since.
On June 30, 1946, the entire SPAR component was demobilized, and more than 10,000 women departed the service, forever altering the course of history and blazing the trail for future Coast Guard women.
When asked, "What do you think of women in the military?" Smith said," Oh, I love it! Someone told me once that I was a pioneer. I guess I am."