WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman recognized the service and sacrifice of WWII Coast Guard veteran Lois Bouton whose dedication for writing letters to Coast Guard members earned her the nickname the “Coast Guard Lady.”
“I like to write letters,” Bouton said.
After reading a story about a Coast Guard rescue on Lake Michigan, Bouton became interested in leaving her teaching job to join the military.
“I did write and ask the Coast Guard if they took women. This was before they did. Somebody wrote back and said no,” Bouton recalled.
In November 1942, the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard, known as the SPARs, was established. Due to the school calendar, 23-year-old Bouton had to wait until the following year to enlist.
SPAR comes from the first four letters of the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus- Always Ready.’ Throughout WWII more than 10,000 women volunteered to serve in SPARs.
The Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida served as a training center for many of the women. Bouton was stationed there for boot camp.
“We lived in the Biltmore Hotel, but it wasn’t much better than a barracks,” Bouton said.
After serving as an instructor at the completion of boot camp, she was anxious to do something different. She was transferred to San Francisco where women were just starting to get assignments. As a member of the maintenance team, Bouton was able to explore the city during the daytime, but she wanted to contribute more to the Coast Guard so she enrolled in radio school in Atlantic City.
It was while she was writing a letter on the boardwalk there in 1944 that she met her future husband Bill who was serving in the Army.
“I was sitting there writing letters. He came and sat down and waited until I finished my letters before we started talking. The first thing we did was go out and mail my letters. I was writing to people who were overseas,” Bouton recalled.
She spent more than two years in the Coast Guard, and her passion for the men and women who serve continued in the decades that followed.
During the Vietnam War she visited patients at Naval Hospital Great Lake. She incorporated letter-writing into her lesson plans for her first-grade students and wanted to meet the patients who wrote back. Bouton made weekly visits to the hospital for the next six years. That’s where she received the moniker “Coast Guard Lady.”
“There were only about half a dozen Coast Guard people there among the eight or 900 patients so they knew they were special when I hunted them out. That’s where it started,” Bouton remembered.
In the early 1970s the Bouton’s retired to Arkansas. That’s when her outreach to Coasties took off. She started writing to Coast Guard units in Alaska and soon she had the directory with addresses of units across the country.
“I had been sending Coast Guard Day letters and Christmas card too all of them that were in my address file which was about 600 each time. Then anybody who would write to me in between times I would answer their letters, so it was over 1,000,” Bouton says about her annual letter writing.
While far from the coast, her Rogers home is a museum of Coast Guard memorabilia. Her collection includes the Meritorious Public Service Award she received from the Commandant of the Coast Guard, the second highest civilian award issued by the Coast Guard. In 2013 she was named an honorary Chief Petty Officer.
“I am grateful for Lois Bouton’s dedication and service to our nation. Her love for the Coast Guard is unmatched as demonstrated in her decades-long practice of letter writing to show her support to these members. She is well known among members of the Coast Guard and I am pleased to share her story so future generations can learn of her devotion,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Bouton’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.