Judy Abee of Hickory shared a special letter that was written by her uncle, Lt. William Carter “Bill” Buchanan, while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
“Uncle Bill’s name is etched on the monument outside the courthouse in Newton which honors those young men from Catawba County who gave their lives in the war,” Abee said. “Such a tragedy that he, among so many others, did not make it home.”
Bill Buchanan was valedictorian of his graduating class in Maiden. He graduated from Lees-McCray College then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
The letter Abee shared with Hickory Daily Record readers was written by Buchanan to his mother, Emma Buchanan. He was stationed somewhere in North Africa at the time. It was published in the Hickory Daily Record after his mother received it. Bill Buchanan’s father, Marion Lafayette, pastor of First Baptist Church in Maiden, was already deceased.
Bill Buchanan was killed in Italy on March 23, 1944. He was 21 years old.
In the letter, Buchanan describes the people and the conditions of North Africa eloquently.
“Humanity here could better be called broth from the melting pot of war,” he wrote. “Arabs, French, Jews, English, Scotch, Poles and Americans make up the majority of people, civil and military. The Arabs and French seem to think that all Americans have platinum-lined pockets and live on diamond juice.”
Describing a large town he visited, Buchanan wrote of streets lined with orange trees where he observed “veiled Arab women, bearded men, well-dressed civilians and bedraggled ones, colorful uniforms of many nations. They go on foot, on bicycles, on camels, on diminutive donkeys, in two-and four-wheeled horse-drawn carts, in automobiles which have motors removed and a seat installed on top for the horse driver, and in crowded buses which use charcoal for fuel.”
No less fascinating to Buchanan was the far-ranging field of human emotions he witnessed in North Africa.
“Here more than any place I’ve ever been is a veritable hive of emotions and instincts, humming and buzzing with malice, greed, envy, deceit, ambition, dejection, passiveness, and with charity, hope and faith,” he wrote.
He describes the cold nights of North Africa.
“Last night I slept very warm in my flying clothes and three blankets,” he wrote. “The food is excellent, and I say that truthfully about this base.”
Buchanan says near the end of the letter that he is convinced of the value of America’s involvement in the war.
“After the war, we who are fortunate should not be satisfied to leave and say that since the Germans are whipped we have done our part of the job. Our policy should be to consider our just share only as the initial contribution.”
Abee said her uncle, a navigator, and the others in his crew had just completed a bombing mission and had made it to a base outside Rome to refuel. As they attempted to take off, the plane was too heavy to make it over a large rock fence. When the plane hit the fence, it exploded and all crewmen on board were killed.
Buchanan’s remains are buried in a veterans’ cemetery outside Rome.
“When the United States entered the war, my family, as did many families from Catawba County, moved to different areas of the country where the men found work supporting the war effort,” Abee said.
“Our family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where my father was as welder working on the battleships in the shipyards.
“I remember, vividly, the day the Western Union telegram was delivered to my mother that her brother, Billy, had been killed. Although, I was very young, I remember my mother sobbing as my father supported her in his arms, trying to comfort her. I don’t think I ever saw my mother cry like that again.”