Reservist

ISS4 2018

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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Young woman runs away, joins Coast Guard Story and photos courtesy of Christine Rodenbaugh, The St. Augustine Record Editor's note: This is an abridged version of the original article, which can be found at staugustine.com. At the age of 21, Marian Stenger (Barnett) ran away from home to join the Coast Guard. She celebrated her 97th birthday July 17 and hasn't lost that spark for adventure. At a small gathering of friends at her daughter, Kathleen's, Anastasia Island home, Marian recalled some recent adventures including skydiving, zip lining and a motorcycle ride to raise funds for cancer research. "My granddaughter called and wants me to go skydiving again. But I'm not telling anybody," she said with a grin. Against her parents' wishes, and without their knowledge, Stenger joined the Coast Guard while they were on vacation for a few months in Florida. She said always liked the uniform. To keep the secret, she would write a letter to her parents in an envelope addressed to their Florida vacation address, then place that in an envelope addressed to her brother. He, in turn, would mail her letter from Cincinnati. He forwarded mail from their parents to Stenger at basic training in Bronx, New York, or to Stillwater, Oklahoma, where she completed training to become a Yeoman. During WWII, the Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College, was used as a Coast Guard training center. Stenger was among the first SPARs to be stationed in St. Augustine. She lived in one of the former guest rooms with four other SPARs sleeping in bunk beds. She had the top bunk unless she was out late and reached her three-drink limit. Then she would tell her roommate, "Putzie, get up top. I've had too much to drink." At that time, the bus station was located across the street from the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Stenger's parents were returning to Ohio from Miami by bus, as they normally traveled, and her father pointed out a girl across the street who looked just like their Marian. And it was. A few weeks later, Stenger went home to Ohio on leave. She walked up to the house in her uniform, unsure how she would be received. It turned out her parents were proud of her choice to serve in wartime, and sent her on errands, in uniform, so that everyone in town could see her. There were 60 SPARs in St. Augustine and about 6,000 men. Stenger recalled the old Dr. Pepper advertising slogan, "Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2, and 4." She and her friends adapted the slogan to dating. "I would make dates with everybody — 10, 2 and 4 — and take the best of the lot," she said. "And my [future] husband [Freddie] was not one of them." Freddie's buddies teased that he had not gone out with Marian yet. He replied, "I have plans for her after the war." Stenger, with her fiery personality, rejected the notion wholeheartedly. "Nobody makes plans for me." In May of 1945, the training station in St. Augustine was closed. She had the choice to transfer to Miami, San Francisco or New York. She wrote SAN FRANCISCO in all capital letters, and the other two options very small in small letters. She got her first choice. Freddie had shipped out with the Navy, and his ship returned to the states in San Francisco. After his discharge, they were married and, eventually, moved back to St. Augustine. She lives in Saint Johns with her son, Jack, and regularly visits her daughter, Kathleen, at her home just over the Bridge of Lions on Anastasia Island. Another son, Mark, lives in Clearwater. Stenger is still sharp and can tell a great story. [She] stays active volunteering and participating in Council on Aging activities. She shows no sign of slowing down and still enjoys living in St. Augustine. "I ran away and joined the Coast Guard," she said. "It was the happiest time of my life." � Petty Officer 3rd Class Marian Stenger is pictured in her uniform in 1943. St. Augustine, Fla. Mayor Nancy Shaver, presents a Navy League of the United States membership certificate to Marian Stenger.

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