This was followed by Wessex Operational Flying School at 725 Squadron and then at sea at HMAS Melbourne and ashore at HMAS Albatross at 817 Squadron and included time as Mirror Control Officer, part of an aircraft carrier’s control system, at HMAS Melbourne.
He met his future wife, Virginia, when he was stationed at HMAS Albatross in Nowra and she was working at a petrol station.
Emily said: “After seeing him, she went home and said, ‘I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.’ Every time he pulled into the car yard, she would go out to water the flowers, just to be visible.They were married in 1967 with the reception aboard HMAS Melbourne, which no one ever did.
“When the commander found out before the wedding, he said, ‘You can’t do it, are you crazy?’ But Daddy said, “It’s all arranged, everyone’s coming.” The CO said the only time it would ever be possible was if one of the couples was an orphan, and it turns out my mom was an orphan, so it could continue because of that loophole.
In June 1969, two years after the wedding, Buchanan was involved in the rescue operation after the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne collided with the US Navy destroyer USS Frank E. Evans. The two ships took part in the SEATO exercise Sea Spirit in the South China Sea. Evans sailed under the bow of Melbourne where she was cut in half resulting in the loss of 74 of Evans’ crew. He was awarded the Commendation Medal of the United States Navy for his assistance in pulling sailors out of the water.
In November 1969 he was selected for service in the 4th contingent of the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV), which arrived in the Republic of Vietnam in October 1970. Once in land, he became platoon commander of the Second Lift Platoon flying the Iroquois UH-1H. Huey” helicopter and served in the theater between September 1970 and June 1971. Lieutenant Buchanan flew 840 hours in Vietnam and suffered damage to his helicopter several times before completing his tour of duty.
He rarely talked about his service in Vietnam until the last 10 years when he talked about it openly. In an attempt at his memoirs, he wrote: “In October 1970 I found myself in Vietnam, Deputy Commander of the RANHFV 4th Contingent. Wow! At that point, if you had combined the total command time of my commanding officer, a newly promoted Lieutenant Commander, and me, who had once had a few months as a squadron senior pilot, our combined total command time would have been less than the command time from one of the senior officers of the 1st, 2nd or 3rd contingent. And here we bravely led our innocents into battle from Dong Tam.
“In hindsight I don’t think either of us fully realized that the fact that the RAAF would not land at Dong Tam, because it was unsafe, meant that Dong Tam was on the battlefield!”
After serving in the RAN for 27 years, he was with DFAT for 17 years. He was involved in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in which, at the request of the government of the island in 2003, Australia helped lay the foundations for long-term stability, security and prosperity.
James Buchanan spoke several languages as a translator. In 1976, he joined MENSA after completing a test that showed his intelligence quotient was in the top two percent of the population.
He divorced Virginia and remarried Chongchit (Boom) in the mid-1990s with whom he had a daughter.
He is survived by daughters Katherine, Serena, Emily and Jamie from the second marriage. A son, Simon, died at the age of five.
Tim Barlass is Obituary Editor for the Herald.
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