Larry was 16 years old when he met his future wife, Lora, during high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lora was 15 years old and was not initially romantically interested in Larry. Despite her initial disinterest, some 60 years later Larry and Lora Rodgers gathered around their kitchen table, littered with family photos, to share their story on life as a Coast Guard family.
At 18 years old Larry joined the Coast Guard, and rather than being greeted with pride and admiration, his mother remarked “Why didn’t you join something good like the Marine Corps?” Despite his mother’s disappointment, he shipped off to boot camp and then radio school in Connecticut. After training, he married Lora at the age of 19. Lora recounts, “I was making really good money in Pittsburgh. I was making as much as men were then. [But] I decided to marry him and starve (chuckling).” Larry was only making $172 a month at the time, but Lora chose to follow him for the rest of his career even at the expense of her own.
Larry and Lora spent two years at their first assignment as a couple in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Little did they know, this would be their first of 27 relocations within Larry’s 27-year career. While stationed in Elizabeth City, North Carolina Larry recalls one search and rescue mission for which he was unexpectedly deployed. His ship received a message about someone floating in the water 20-30 miles from where he was; they came to realize that a ship had sunk so they were sent to find possible survivors. Due to the change of plans and his mission being extended, Larry was unable to let Lora know what was happening. Lora sat at home for five days unaware of what was going on or if Larry was dead or alive. This was the first of many of his search and rescue missions, and Lora quickly learned that when the phone rang, he was off to complete another mission.
Their next relocation was Argentia in Newfoundland, Canada, where Lora recalls being the last woman to be transported on a Coast Guard ship before the Coast Guard no longer allowed families on their ships. Salem, Massachusetts was their next relocation for Officer Candidate School where Larry learned to become “an officer and a gentleman” according to Lora. Larry was then stationed in Mobile, Alabama where the Rodgers would live off and on for the next six years. While stationed in Mobile, Alabama, Larry deployed to Alaska and spent his time flying helicopters to retrieve the mail of the service members stationed in Alaska. He recalls, “They hated the hell out of us when we wouldn’t fly in bad weather to get the mail.” Mail was the service members’ only source of communication at the time, so it was really important to those serving in Alaska. Service members today are fortunate to have many more options for communication such as calling via phone or video, emailing, receiving packages, in addition to the classic letter writing.
While in Mobile, Larry sent a letter to Washington, D.C. saying there should be a Coast Guard Officer on site to be part of the training command. He recommended himself for the position - and got it! From that letter, Larry became the first Coast Guard Instructor for flight training.
From Mobile, they moved to Corpus Christi, Texas for advanced flight training and lived there for two years. During this relocation Lora owned a health spa, which had a gym and pool, as well as offered services such as manicures, pedicures, and massages. While in Corpus Christi, Lora and Larry realized the importance of mental healthcare within the military and took it upon themselves to write a letter to Congress advocating for psychological help for service members. Today, mental health services in the military have improved, and resources are continuing to grow. MilitaryOneSource, NAMI, and MentalHealth.gov are excellent resources for military families looking for services.
Although Larry retired from the Coast Guard almost 40 years ago, the challenges they faced are similar to that of military families today. A consistent theme throughout Larry’s service in the Coast Guard was Lora’s unwavering support and willingness to make personal sacrifices, including her career, to prioritize keeping her family together. Although it is still common for military spouses to sacrifice their personal careers to support their families through military life, resources have evolved. Military spouses now have many resources available to them to help them seek employment and grow their career despite the challenges they may face as a military family. Brooke Matthew recently wrote an informative piece titled "The Inside Scoop on Spousal Employment” that explores some of the resources available to military spouses interested in pursuing a career.
Despite all of the dangers, relocations, and sacrifices Larry and Lora faced throughout Larry’s 27-year military career, when asked if they would do it all over again they responded with a resounding “Oh my God, yes!”.
A very special thank you to Lora and Larry Rodgers—thank you for your service, for paving the way on the necessity of mental healthcare in the military, and for taking the time to sit down and talk with us. We so appreciate you!