The tree-lined hills and valleys beckoned the young Army private as his '35 black Chevy hugged the narrow road, a hairpin curve almost upon him. Basic US Army training was behind and the war just ahead, his 3-day leave wedged in between for saying good-byes.
But before the fading autumn sun could dim the burnished foliage, this 18-year old would be called to serve in a way he couldn't have imagined.
"There was a valley, we called it a gully, kind of in a rough area with a sharp curve. When I went around that curve, I looked and I saw something on the side of the road," Harold Buchanan said in his warm southern voice, clearly remembering the drive. "I didn't know what it was so I went on down a bit to where I could pull out of the road."
Back in 1943, Highway 5 between Ava and Mansfield, Mo., was a narrow country-type lane, of sorts. Harold described it as black-top, not gravel like so many others in those parts. But even though it was a bit better for travel, you'd still have to pull way over on a curve to let an oncoming car drive by, grass growing along the shoulder of a drop-off into the ravine below.
With his 2-door sedan safely parked on the edge, what the hawk-eyed soldier saw changed the course of that day.
"It was a tiny, little baby laying right there on the side of the road. I didn't see anything else right at that moment but that little baby, so I picked it up. My mother was waiting in the car and I came over and handed the baby to her," 93-year-old Harold said, reflecting on being there at just the right time. "There were no cars that came while I was doing that, but easy they could have run over that baby."
With the little girl now safe in his mother's arms, Pfc. Buchanan took a quick looksee over the valley and the boulders piled at the top of the road. Immediately, he spied a red convertible at the bottom and sprang into action, climbing over rocks and thick brush. There, he found a young woman pinned under the car, her husband thrown nearby with neck and shoulder injuries.
"I only weighed 121-pounds then," said Harold thinking back to the heavy convertible teetering on some rocks, "So I have no idea, other than the help of the good Lord, how I bent down and raised up that car and pulled the lady out! Her leg was bleeding, so I ripped off the sleeve of my shirt and I tied it around her leg in an attempt to stop the blood from flowing."
At a time long before cellphones, the military man knew it was up to him to see that this family had medical care before much more time passed. While the sturdy woman steadied herself against him, step by step they neared the top.
"When I got to the steep rocks there, it was quite a drop at that point, I said, 'Now look, let me try to carry you over this, if I can," Harold said, thinking back to his surprising strength at that moment.