In 1943 at the age of 28, Mabel Johnson decided to enlist in the armed forces to serve her country.
“I lived in New York at the time, and I walked up Broadway to see which one I should join, and it happened to be the Coast Guard,” said WWII veteran Mabel Johnson.
Johnson joined, what was at the time, the newly created Coast Guard’s women reserves. Also known as the SPARs. She says it was the first Armed Forces Recruiting Office that caught her eye.
“And I would do it all over again,” Johnson said.
76 years later, she was honored at the Johnson County Veterans Day service.
“I think in recent years it’s been an interesting phenomenon to see my Nana turn into a bit of a symbol for women of the military, and I’m quite proud of her,” said Johnson’s granddaughter Kit Bessenbacher.
According to research by Johnson County, the Coast Guard’s Public Information Office said Johnson is the nation’s oldest SPAR, making her the oldest woman Veteran of the Coast Guard.
“My part was a very, very small part. I just had a desk job,” Johnson said.
But with a Nation at War, her role in fact was very important.
Johnson was assigned as a storekeeper Second Class Petty Officer to the Coast Guard’s Ninth District Office in Cleveland, Ohio. The SPARs allowed women to take the job of Coast Guardsmen who had to leave their military posts to fight in the war.
While the world was at war, Johnson fell in love. She was granted special leave to return home to marry her husband in Staten Island.
“And had to get special permission to wear a wedding dress so she didn’t have to wear her uniform to her wedding,” Bessenbacher said.
Johnson’s family credits her ripe age of 105 to having always taken care of herself. Her kind smile mirrors a long life well lived. One that she says she’s proud of.
“We have such a great country. And it was a privilege to serve in some way,” Johnson said.
We honor you, Mabel Johnson.