On the door of WWII veteran Vi (short for Viola) Feyling’s home is a wreath with an American flag. Inside her home are two scrapbooks full of memorabilia from the war and a pile of black-and-white photographs that have yellowed. There is even a second American flag that stands next to a framed photograph of Feyling, her sisters, and her mother.
Feyling, now 91, lives in a senior center in Cupertino. When she was only 21, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. One year later in 1942, she enlisted in the United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve as a recruiter.
Feyling left for boot camp in New York from San Francisco in 1942. On the train to New York, Feyling met another member of the Women’s Reserve. Her name was Elfrieda Spree, although Feyling and their friends later called her “Spree” because she “wasn’t an ‘Elfrieda.'” The two played cards all the way across the country.
Feyling and Spree parted ways when Feyling was sent to Mississippi. As Feyling traveled in the American South, from Mississippi to Alabama and then to Texas, she worked with other SPARS — which stands for Semper Paratus Always Ready, the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard. They gave speeches at rotary club meetings and even high schools to recruit women.
Two years later, Feyling and Spree met once again in New Orleans. They shared an apartment with two other women, Martha Lee and Natalie Jones, but it was really Feyling and Spree’s friendship that grew. During the final year in New Orleans, Spree became Feyling’s closest friend in the Coast Guard.
After the war was over, Spree moved to San Francisco, Feyling’s hometown. The time the spent together post-war cultivated their friendship even more. Spree was one of the SPARS Feyling kept in contact with until her final days. “I introduced her to her husband and we went skiing together,” Feyling said. “We became very, very close, but she’s gone [now] … I’m outliving a few people.”
Meeting new people was one the things Feyling remembered most about her years in the Coast Guard. The specific format of the Coast Guard helped her form closer relationships with those she worked with.
“One of the things we liked about the Coast Guard was that it was a small group, a small unit, so we could be more family like than so very official,” Feyling said. “The officers were not way up here [while] we were down here. We were all just a big family.”