Greensburg woman turns 103, remembers her WWII service
Madeline Buchek is unlikely to forget the pride she had when serving as a switchboard operator in the US Marine Corps during World War II.
The Greensburg resident recalled the feeling as she sat at her home this week, just days before celebrating her 103rd birthday with family and friends.
âI enjoyed it so much that I was proud of it, that I was able to do it for the boys,â said Buchek, who grew up in Hostetter.
Buchek enlisted in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in 1943, almost a year after the unit was created to relieve the men of their labor so that they could go and serve in the war. After completing her basic training at Camp Lejeune, NC, Buchek, then in her twenties, was posted to Columbia, SC, where she remained throughout the war.
At her assignment, Buchek was working as a PBX Operator, a role she learned early in her career with Bell Telephone Co. in Greensburg. Buchek worked alongside another woman while the men learned to fly planes to fight in war. A total of nine women were trained on the job and alternated overnight shifts.
âIt was wonderful,â Buchek said. âI knew the mission, which helped me. The other girls had to be trained and they were a little bit doubtful about doing the job, but after the training and after using the boards, they got to know the job and then they enjoyed it.
Join the Marines
Buchek was only a few years into her career as a switchboard operator – a path she chose after graduating from Greater Latrobe Senior High School in 1937 – when the war began.
Following in the footsteps of friends and colleagues, Buchek decided to enlist in the Marines.
âWe were all from Bell Telephone from Greensburg,â she said. âWe were all assigned different zones. What they did, I don’t know, because I couldn’t get in touch with them. I didn’t know where they were.
Buchek was the only friend of hers stationed in South Carolina, where she lived in a former Civilian Conservation Corps barracks. The CCC was a work-assistance program established under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 that provided work for millions of men during the Great Depression.
According to Buchek’s nephew, Rick Labuda, the barracks had no plumbing or heating. Thus, the women stationed at the camp had to collect wood and charcoal to fill the pot-bellied stoves at night. Bathrooms and showers were in a separate building from the barracks, he said.
âAt night we were so cold that we would buy bricks and heat them to keep our feet warm. â¦ We had to create our own heat, âsaid Buchek. “We had to put charcoal in the bellies of the pot-bellied stoves, so it was a bit hard.”
When Buchek was not working, she would go on bike rides and do various things on the base, such as watching the men learn to take off and land planes. Buchek was one of the few women to have a driver’s license, which she obtained at the age of 19. If an additional vehicle was available, she would travel to work with other women.
Buchek remained in his post until the end of the war in 1945.
âOf course when the war was over we were all happy,â she said. “It was a really happy time when they said the war was over and everyone took action to get home.”
After the war ended, Buchek returned to her post at Bell Telephone, where she was promoted to Service Advisor. In her role, she visited businesses in western Pennsylvania that had Bell switchboards and made sure they knew how to operate the switchboard and provide them with supplies.
Buchek remained in her post until 1979, when she left her job with Bell Telephone. She moved to Las Vegas to help her sister, Mary Jane Gritzer, who was diagnosed with cancer. Buchek remained there, working in the gift-wrapping department of the Bullock department store, until the age of 88.
At that time, she returned to Greensburg, where several of her nieces live.
Family and friends will come together on Saturday to celebrate his accomplishments and his birthday.