Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
USCG SPAR WWII Shirley Houston Reagor, who recently turned 101, will be honored in Franklin on Oct. 17 at 1:30 for her service in the military as well as for being the oldest surviving SPAR, which stands for “Semper Paratus, Always Ready.” Reagor, a native of Franklin who currently resides in Houston, Texas, joined the Coast Guard in 1943 as a seaman with training and station assignments along the Florida Atlantic Coast.
Reagor’s daughter, Patricia Samsel, facilitated the nomination of her mother for an AARP-sponsored Wish of a Lifetime, granted to people over 65 years of age. Cielito PascualJackson
Sergeant Major, USA (Retired), the Texas Ambassador for Women for Military Service for America who also presented Reagor with a Living Legend Proclamation, nominated Reagor. Samsel explained that her mother was considered for three wishes, to visit the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.; to revisit the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, La.; and, to visit her hometown of Franklin, N.C. – which was ranked as her top wish. Reagor was chosen to be a Wish of a Lifetime recipient and for her wish of visiting her hometown to be granted.
Tom Wagenlander, executive director of Wish of a Lifetime, said, “Wish of a Lifetime is thrilled to be a part of bringing Shirley back to her hometown. Shirley answered the call to help her country by joining the Coast Guard and is incredibly deserving of the celebration planned for her in Franklin.“
On Oct. 17, Reagor, as well as first responders, bagpipers, a local honor guard, and more will be at Franklin’s Memorial Park at a private event, where a brick will be displayed that includes Reagor’s name as well as the following information:
Rosie the Riveter
USCG SM 1st Class
Another Franklin native, 101-year-old Hazel Duvall McWherter, who worked at a plant that produced Jeeps during the war, will be honored on Oct. 17 as well.
One of Reagor’s two children, Rev. Scott Dugas, a Catholic priest in Mississippi, said of his mother, “She’s remarkable, and this honors not only my mother but my favorite town of Franklin, where my mother grew up.”
Added Samsel, “We [the entire Houston family] deeply love and admire our mother. My mother is a trailblazer, as a WWII veteran and as a ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ and as a working woman in her civic life.”
Wish of a Lifetime will fly Reagor, Rev. Dugas, Samsel, as well as Samsel’s husband, Jim, to Franklin for the Oct. 17 event.
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) Women’s Reserve, known as SPAR, was created as the World War II women’s branch of the USCG Reserve. The United States Congress established it and it was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in November 1942. While women at the time worked in factories making ammunition, planted victory gardens, and trained as nurses, others – like Reagor – decided to take a different route. Thus, SPAR became the authorized branch that accepted women into the reserve as commissioned officers and at the enlisted level for the duration of the war plus six months. The main purpose of SPAR was to release officers and men for sea duty and to replace them with women at shore stations.
Shared Samsel, Reagor was first a “Rosie the Riveter,” working at the Timiken, Roller and Ball Bearing Company’s factor in Akron-Canton, Ohio, for two years before joining USCG in September 1943 and eventually being accepted into SPAR.
The qualifying age for officer candidates for SPAR was between 20 and 50; women were also required to have a college degree or two years of college and two years of professional or business experience. To just be enlisted in SPAR, the age was between 20 and 36, and the requirement was to have completed at least two years of high school.
Training initially occurred at the Palm Beach Biltmore Hotel, Palm Beach, Fla. Then in January 1945, the training was transferred from Palm Beach to Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The SPAR members were assigned to every USCG district except Puerto Rico, and served in Hawaii and Alaska as well. SPAR officers served in such capacities as communication, supply and recruitment. Enlisted women performed clerical duties, but also sometimes rigged parachutes and attended to other needs. A select few officers and enlisted personnel were assigned to work with the Long Range Aid to Navigation at monitoring stations in the U.S. This assignment involved a top-secret radio navigation system developed for ships at sea and long-range aircraft.
Reagor’s role was primarily to “serve at various Coast Guard bases along Florida’s Atlantic coastline in an administrative and logistical capacity,” said Samsel.
During World War II, Reagor was also tasked with boarding a captured Italian submarine to conduct an onboard inventory of the vessel.
Out of the Houston family of seven siblings, four served in the military during World War II, while three others worked in defense plants.
Reagor married Judson Dugas, who served during World War II. After the war, Reagor worked as a medical secretary/assistant for the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, La.
For Reagor’s 100th birthday in 2020, she was honored by the U.S. Coast Guard Houston-Galveston Sector with a boat drive-by, unit coins, and a letter of appreciation.