WWII typist tends Mt. Pleasant Township cemetery
For a man who will turn 88 on Labor Day, one could say Conrad W. Semensky's insatiable hunger for hard work is only appropriate.
More often than not lately, Semensky — a Mt. Pleasant Township resident — can be found tending the grounds of St. Mary Holy Protection Byzantine Catholic Church Cemetery nestled deep in Westmoreland County's pastoral woodlands.
For years, Semensky, a longtime professional landscaper, mowed the grass there and planted trees which today provide shade to visitors during periods of mourning or silent reflection.
Twelve years ago, Semensky personally financed the addition of what he considers the most important of his toils at the cemetery — a stone commemorating all those who served in America's military forces.
“That is just something I thought I needed to make happen,” said Semensky, who rose to the rank of sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps while serving in the Pacific Air Command during World War II.
Since its placement, small spates of time rarely pass without Semensky ensuring that every flower is in place surrounding the military memorial.
“He's been going up there, planting flowers ... really spending a lot of time up there,” said Greg Semensky, Conrad's younger brother.
“It's really great what he is doing there, and you don't hear about something like this being done too often. There's not too many of these veterans left,” he said.
Soldier sets out for South Pacific
After Semensky graduated in 1944 from Hurst High School in Norvelt, he was drafted into the military on Dec. 29 of that year, he said.
“When I got in line, the first man went to the Navy, the second one went to the Marines, and the third one ended up in the Army Infantry — that was me,” he said.
Upon completing basic training at Camp Wheeler, Ga., the Allied forces had declared victory in Europe, Semensky said.
“I went on leave, and then I was supposed to go to Camp Rucker, Ala.,” he said.
Upon going there, Semensky was promptly ordered to report to Ft. Meade, Md., to prepare for entry into the war's still-unfinished phase against Japan.
“Things changed really quickly after Europe. When I called home, my mother thought we were in Alabama. I told her we were shipping off to the South Pacific,” Semensky said.
Wounds, wayward ship mark a long journey
While undergoing combat training at Camp Maxey, Texas, an explosive device designed to mimic the booby traps the Japanese had set in the South Pacific islands detonated near Semensky, wounding one of his hands and leaving shrapnel in his chest, he said.
Upon recovering from those wounds, Semensky was deployed farther west, and he eventually set out for the South Pacific from the California coast. The ship carrying Semensky's unit frequently broke down, and it took 28 days for the unit to reach the Leyte Gulf. The welcome was a rude one.
“While we were on an island beach there, the Japanese blew up a big ammonia tank, and they gave us gas masks to sleep with at night,” he said.
Semensky's unit eventually moved on to the Island of Samar on the northeast end of the central Philippines, where he was placed in the U.S. Navy's coast artillery forces.
Talent for typing opens a door
Based on Semensky's academic records and intelligence, he was asked by his military leaders to take a typing test.
“Not too many men could type, Conrad did,” Greg Semensky said. He subsequently was awarded a private first class stripe and a position as his group's official record keeper.
“They said ‘You're going to take care of all the records of the men in this unit,'” he said. “At the time, they said you could end up a sergeant major.”
Man meets Eisenhower, works with MacArthur
Personnel shortages from homecoming soldiers eventually resulted in Semensky being transferred to work in Manila in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“During my service there, my job was to trace lost mail all over the Pacific,” he said.
One day, Semensky was asked to go outside to meet someone — Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and the nation's future president.
“I was the only one there; I shook his hand, he asked how I was doing,” he said. “He was there to tell everyone to get out of Manila, that the Korean War was coming on.”
Semensky's next stop was Tokyo, where he worked in the same building as Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
“I took a back log of lost mail for airmen in the Pacific to Gen. MacArthur's office every morning,” he said.
Giver earns praise from priest
Upon returning home, Semensky worked for Robertshaw Controls Co. in New Stanton, and he started his own business — Semensky Excavating & Landscaping.
Despite enduring a recent stroke, Semensky quietly continues his work at the cemetery, an act which drew praise from the Rev. Paul-Alexander Shutt, Order of St. Benedict, the church's pastor.
“I certainly commend him for his great love and devotion, and his respect for veterans who fought through various wars,” Shutt said. “He certainly has put his heart and soul in to caring for the cemetery over the years, and it certainly makes our cemetery very distinctive and unique.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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