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Olivia Hooker: A Veteran’s Story

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Dr. Olivia J. Hooker at the dedication ceremony for a training center named in her honor, Coast Guard headquarters, 2015 (USCG)

By Denise Krepp 2018-10-17 19:15:00

On Veterans Day, we will join together as a country to thank the men and women who have and are serving our country in uniform. Dr. Olivia Hooker is one of the veterans that we will thank, and her story is one of exceptional courage and determination.

Dr. Hooker served on active duty as a yeoman from March 1945 to June 1946. She was the first of only five African American women to serve in the Coast Guard during World War II. After the war, she earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and then a doctorate at the University of Rochester. Dr. Hooker is 103 and currently resides in White Plains, New York.

Prior to World War II, Dr. Hooker survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Three hundred African Americans died over the course of two violent, bloody days. She hid under the family dining room table, and she is one of the last living survivors of the massacre.

In 2014, Dr. Hooker visited the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and spoke with students. A summary of her visit was recorded by the Coast Guard Compass, and I encourage folks to read it because Dr. Hooker shared some valuable advice that day: ‘“It’s not about you, or me, but it’s about what we can give to this world.”’

The service Dr. Hooker joined in February 1945 was white and predominantly male. Dr. Hooker had been encouraging African-American women to join the Navy, and she tried to do so as well, but was declined due to an unknown technicality. So Dr. Hooker joined the Coast Guard. Her stories about bootcamp will make you smile - polishing floors that didn’t need cleaning and exercise before breakfast. Some things don’t change.

Only one Coast Guard district would accept an African-American female yeoman, and that was Admiral Derby in Boston. Despite all the hurdles Dr. Hooker faced, she still encourages all women to join the military, and does so because it provides a foundation for future success.

The Coast Guard recognized Dr. Hooker’s contributions to the service in 2015 by naming a section of Coast Guard headquarters in her honor. She attended the ceremony and shared a quote that she lives by: ‘“Love all, trust few, and do right.”’

Dr. Hooker did right. She fought to open the military to African-American women, and she was successful in doing so. Dr. Hooker’s actions enabled others to follow her path, and as a former Coast Guard officer, I’d like to thank Dr. Hooker for her service.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp is a former Coast Guard officer.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.