Happy Birthday Dr. Hooker! You truly were a Mighty Girl.
Happy 103rd birthday to Dr. Olivia Hooker, who became the first African American woman to ever enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1945! To honor this trailblazer, the Coast Guard named a building on Staten Island in her honor in 2015. At the ceremony, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft unveiled a plaque, stating: “Dr. Olivia Hooker was among those who would fight the battle to open the military to all women... [she] is an inspiration and a hero to every member of the Coast Guard and our nation.”
Dr. Hooker was born in 1915 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was six years old when her family’s home was destroyed in the infamous Tulsa race riots of 1921; she remembers being woken in the middle of the night by the sound of military machine gun fire hitting her house. She grew up to be a passionate advocate for civil rights. At first, she hadn't considered a career in the military, but after her sorority at Ohio State University campaigned for integration in the military, she decided to enlist: "I thought well, we campaigned for it. We helped to build this nation, but we didn’t get paid. We ought to be a part of everything.”
She was granted admission into the Coast Guard in 1945 as a SPAR (Semper Paratus - Always Ready), the designation used for women service personnel in the Coast Guard during World War II. She served until the SPAR program was disbanded in 1946, eventually becoming a Petty Officer, 2nd Class, and winning multiple awards for her service. She used her GI Bill benefits to earn masters and doctorate degrees in psychology, and taught at Fordham University for many years until she retired at the age of 87.
When she learned of the decision to rename the galley at the Coast Guard's base on Staten Island in her honor for her 100th birthday -- a building selected because it is one of the base's most popular -- Dr. Hooker said, “I was astonished. I would never have expected anything like that to happen.” At the ceremony, Rear Admiral Linda Fagan also praised the lasting influence of this groundbreaking pioneer, stating: "I've never met anyone like her. She remains open and unafraid of what life will bring. She draws people in with grace and sincerity." And, even today, Dr. Hooker's dedication to the Coast Guard remains strong -- the centenarian still serves as a volunteer in the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Yonkers, New York.