Frank Speer Buchanan was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on February 27, 1899, the son of Frank M. and Alice Buchanan. After graduating from Altoona High School in 1917, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps; he served in Massachusetts until the end of World War I. He worked with the local Shaffer Stores Company throughout the interwar period and joined the Pennsylvania National Guard in the late 1920s. During World War II, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and commanded a tank-destroying battalion. Frank S. Buchanan was killed in action in France on October 12, 1944. He and his wife, Josephine Aurandt, had four children: Frank, Josephine, Shirley, and Richard. Their two sons also served in the United States military during World War II: Frank, an officer in the army air forces, escaped from a German prison camp after being shot down in Italy, and Richard, a private, was killed in the Philippines on March 7, 1945.