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My uncle Jimmy, shot down over Guam

“There are many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself or for someone else.” Veronica Roth, author

By Mary Kolb of St. Peter

My mother’s brother, James (Jimmy) Stewart Buchanan, was born in 1922 in Freeborn County. He made the ultimate sacrifice about 22 years later serving his country during WWII. He left behind his grieving parents, brothers and sisters, and other family and friends. And his dog Rex.

I never met my uncle Jimmy, but grew up with stories about him. My grandmother rarely talked about him, and would not watch any war movies. Not even John Wayne. She couldn’t bear to sell his car and had it dismantled piece-by-piece. When she died, in 1974, the family found the last letter he wrote her in her eyeglass case.

My grandmother also endured the loss of her hero grandson (my maternal cousin), PFC Duane Marvin McBeain, who died 1971 (Quang Nam Province, Vietnam).

The middle of 10 children, uncle Jimmy was born to John Guy Buchanan and Mary Daisey Mae (Becker) Buchanan. He grew up in Oakland, Minn., a farm boy with a ninth-grade education, who enlisted in the Navy, for a full six-year hitch, because, as he wrote down while enlisting, “to serve my country.” He signed on as apprentice seaman at the age of 19 years and 10 months. On his first day, he had in his possession a wallet, prayer book, fountain pen, Air Crew Wings, rubber stamps, hats, books, photograph, photo album, pencil, hunting knife, suit blues, bath towels, undershirt, and a $8.20 money order.

Between the fall of 1943 and the summer of 1944, Jimmy played a key role in the war, and was recognized for his contributions. He earned a gold star in October 1943 for participating in a raid on Wake Island. He earned a second one early the next year. In May, he received the Air Crew Insignia with stars. A couple months later, he received a citation for “meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight as radioman in a carrier-based torpedo plane” that was attacking the enemy near the Marianas Islands. According to military documents, “Buchanan materially assisted in effecting a successful strafing attack against a fortified enemy town, inflicting considerable damage with his cool and deliberate gunfire, even though his own craft was hit repeatedly. Buchanan’s skill and courage in this engagement were in keeping with the finest Navy traditions.”

On Aug. 5, 1944, Jimmy’s grandmother received notice from the military that Jimmy was “hit by enemy aircraft over Guam” and was “observed afire airborne and believe to have crashed east of Agana Town.” Jimmy was listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Telegrams to his family also confirmed the crash. About a year and a half later, the Navy concluded that he was killed in the crash, although his body was never found and the remains from the crash were deemed “unrecoverable.”

Jimmy was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously in 1946, along with the WWII Victory Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal (Bronze Star).

Jimmy’s dog, Rex, said to be part German shepherd/part wolf, was left in the care of a Houston, Minnesota, farm family after Jimmy’s death. One day, presumably looking to reunite with Jimmy, Rex ran back home, to my grandparents’ old farm in Oakland, after Jimmy’s grandparents moved to Austin. Rex followed a torturous trail, of more than 100 miles, through hilly and flooded southeastern Minnesota, according to a local news story, c. 1949, ‘Rex Swims Swollen Streams on His 100-Mile Route Home.’ The story also reports, ‘...It was estimated he must have swum a distance of a mile in order to cross the swollen Root River ...’ The new farm family’s farm, known as the Kru, was out for the day, with neighbors later reporting hearing a dog whining. When the family returned the next day, they found Rex and returned him to Jimmy’s younger brother ​Neil, then 14.

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