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A living history: WWII veteran, 101, shares her humor and life story

Head-and-shoulders portrait of WAVE and sailors. (John Philip Falter, US Naval Reserve/)

Whoever conjured up the phrase “age is just a number” has definitely met Jean Conner Buford.

The World War II veteran and Weatherford resident, now 101 years of age, was the special guest of the Weatherford Noon Lions Club Wednesday, sharing her story and humorous wit during a question-and-answer session with close friend and Parker County Committee on Aging Director of Operations Jennifer Bledsoe.

“For those who don’t know, Jean still drives every day,” Bledsoe said. (Up until very recently, she pumped her own gas as well.)

Buford grew up in a military family, following in the footsteps of her father, who was in World War I.

“And I didn’t have a brother, so I decided that was the thing I should do,” she said. “After I graduated college, I joined the Navy in 1944.”

She was a member of the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services).

Buford attended boot camp in the Bronx at Hunter College, and stayed in the New York area for mail clerk school in Manhattan. There, she was assigned to the Victory-mail section at the fleet post office.

“The V-mail section, this was to make it easier to get mail overseas,” she said. “You had a stationary that folded up and made the envelope, too. Then they could photograph it and send a reel of film overseas, airmail-like.

“Our duty was to open that little envelope and see if they’d written in pencil or pen. It couldn’t be photographed if it was written in pencil — or if they had included something like a picture or a clipping. So we just had to fold it back up and send the paper.”

Buford also served in New Orleans at the Armed Guard Naval Repair base.

“My business there was directory service,” she said. “I had these files of every guy that had been through the base, his name and his address. and everybody’s address is changing constantly.”

After the war, Buford and other females who’d served were made “regulars” so that they could get the same military benefits as men.

“And I went back to college for one semester and worked on my master’s, but I quit that,” she said.

Buford married Forest Bradley Buford, whom she’d known since the fifth grade in their hometown of Haskell.

“We only had 11 grades in those years, and it was during the Depression so nobody had any money to do much dating,” she said.

Forest joined the military after school, serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps 8th Air Force 306th Bomb Group during WWII and was discharged in 1946.

“I didn’t see him for seven years, didn’t think about him,” she said. “He went back home to help his parents … when he wrote me a letter. I thought, ‘What is he writing me a letter for, I didn’t ask you to.'”

He asked her for a date, then called her the next day to break it due to a family issue.

“I didn’t care,” Buford said. But she did recognize him as the “smartest, nicest guy in our class.”

The two began dating and wed, spending 59 married years together before his death in 2008.

“How did he propose to you?” Bledsoe asked.

“I don’t remember … I probably asked him,” Buford replied.

The two had one son, who died at 15 from brain cancer, and a daughter, who married and lives in Houston as a retired architect.

“And that’s my family. I’ve outlived everybody,” Buford said.

While she still lives and drives solo, Buford stays busy with crochet, word search puzzles, adult coloring, time at the Senior Center and visiting with people in nursing homes. She’s also been known to do the jitterbug when “In the Mood” hits, play a few tunes on the piano and sing, a nod to her time as part of the Singing Platoon in the Navy and her college minor in music education.

It’s one of those places you’ll have to catch her, as she doesn’t own a cell phone or computer.

“I still write letters,” she said. “And do you know postage is going up 70 cents?!”

When asked about her secrets of maintaining good health, Buford dismissed exercise or eating right.

“I don’t have any idea, just the good Lord took care of me,” she said.


(c) 2024 Weatherford Democrat

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