Fairelna Arp

1924 - 2017

Coast Guard

Their Story

Fairelna “Ellie” Bryan was born on July 25th, 1924, to William J. and Burnice Bryan. She was raised in Lepanto, Arkansas, and attended the nearby Harding College in Searcy, AR, in 1943. Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York City to live with her sister Louella Thompson and brother-in-law. With the United States already embroiled in World War II, the year 1943 would see a shift in the military that would forever alter the course of Bryan’s life.

Over 16 million men joined the US war effort following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. With the deployment of so much of the workforce, the government knew that there would need to be a replacement for industrial and agricultural workers sent to war. The answer: women would be trained to replace men in the factories and the fields. Following this line of thought, the government sought to relieve men of Coast Guard shore duty so that they could transfer to the Navy and take the fight to the Axis at sea. Near the end of 1942, President Roosevelt signed Public Law 772 of the 77th Congress, 2nd session, which created the Women’s Reserve Coast Guard. Navy LT Dorothy Stratton transferred to assume command of the Women’s Reserve Coast Guard, and “suggested that the Women’s Reserve be known by an acronym based on the Coast Guard motto: ‘Semper Paratus – Always Ready.’ By early 1943 the WAAC and WAVE recruiting posters on post-office walls and telephone poles were joined by placards urging women to ‘Make a Date with Uncle Sam’ and ‘Enlist in the Coast Guard SPARs.’”[1] A year later, Bryan would enlist in the SPARs to serve her country.

The SPARs boot camps were crucibles to turn the young enlistees into steely servicewomen. The enlistees were expected to march through harsh Midwest and New York winters between classes (an average ten miles a day), with hours of physical training to boot. Just like their male counterparts, they would be roused just before dawn for fire drills that left them shivering in their pajamas in the winter snow. At the Manhattan Beach training center, men and women were trained parallel to each other; competing for station honors as they were pushed at nearly the same training intensity. After her basic training and indoctrination, Bryan received her specialization within the Coast Guard along with her classmates. Bryan was to be a Coast Guard storekeeper in her wartime service.[2]

Like many women in the SPARs, Bryan specialized in clerical work that focused on reading and writing. Though there was some sentiment among the SPARs that they would have preferred more hands-on work like their male counterparts, SPARs LT Kay Arthur offered the opinion that “not all of us assigned to paperwork found it boring… We didn’t by a long shot. We may have liked that type of work to begin with or we may have had the kind of job where, if we had any imagination, we could see how our contribution fitted into the same pattern of victory which the men were weaving abroad.”[3] Given Bryan’s later pride in her service, it is likely that she recognized the importance of her role as a storekeeper. Her duties involved coordinating logistical functions that saw the Coast Guard well supplied with fuel, food, machinery, and other important materials.[4] This role was vital to keep the Coast Guard running, so that America could feel confident that the coasts were safe from Axis or other hostile attacks during the war.

After the war, Bryan moved to Davenport, IA to attend AIC Business School. There she met Don Arp, and the two married in 1949. Fairelna Arp then worked in purchasing and administration, fields related to her former storekeeper specialization, until her retirement in 1989. She and her husband took pride in their two children, many grandchildren, and great-grandchild. She is remembered as a loving grandmother, cook and hostess, as well as a ruthless bridge player, and an avid golfer and fisher. She tragically lost her battle with Alzheimer’s Disease on October 26th, 2017, leaving behind a legacy of service to her country; a trailblazer in women’s United States military service.


[1] John A Tilley, “A History of Women in the Coast Guard,” United States Coast Guard, accessed May 20, 2022,

[2] Robin J Thomson, “SPARS: The Coast Guard & the Women’s Reserve in World War II,” United States Coast Guard, accessed May 20, 2022,

[3] Robin J Thomson, “SPARS: The Coast Guard & the Women’s Reserve in World War II,” United States Coast Guard, accessed May 20, 2022,

[4] “SK – Storekeeper,” Coast Guard Cool – Credentialing Opportunities Online, April 29, 2022,