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World War II pilot from Minnesota buried with full honors Saturday in France

The family of 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan was able to lay him to rest Saturday, 78 years after the 23-year-old pilot's plane was shot down on D-Day. His remains were recovered in France in 2018 and identified in 2019.

Scenes from the burial of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, of Benson, July 9, 2022 at Normandy American Cemetery in France. McGowan was shot down on D-day, June 6, 1944, over France. His remains were recovered in 2018 and identified in 2019. He was buried with full military honors with his family in attendance.
Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, a Benson native, was killed on June 6, 1944, just miles away from the D-Day beach landings. His remains were recovered in 2018 and were buried July 9, 2022, in the Normandy American Cemetery in France.
Contributed / American Battle Monuments Commission
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BENSON, Minn. — U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, of Benson, was buried with full military honors Saturday in France, 78 years after his plane was shot down on D-Day in Normandy, France.

McGowan’s family members traveled to the Normandy American Cemetery in France for the burial. The cemetery is the burial site of more than 9,300 men and women who died while serving their country.

William_J_McGowan.jpeg
Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, a Benson native, was killed on June 6, 1944, just miles away from the D-Day beach landings. His remains were recovered in 2018 and were buried Saturday, July 9, 2022, in the Normandy American Cemetery in France.
Contributed / American Battle Monuments Commission

McGowan, 23 when he died, was buried about 350 miles away from his uncle and namesake who died during World War I and is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.

Speaking on behalf of the family, McGowan’s nephew Paul Stouffer said during the service that they chose to have him buried in France without hesitation.

“His remains were meant to be here in Normandy,” Stouffer said.

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While there were many days of grief and questions for his parents and family while McGowan remained missing all those years, Stouffer said, “When it came to Normandy, they were comforted. We feel that they would also be comforted knowing that their son and brother is buried here.”

The flag that draped the casket of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan is presented to his family at his burial Saturday with full military honors at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. The plane McGowan, of Benson, was piloting was shot down on D-day, June 6, 1944, over France. His remains were recovered in 2018 and identified in 2019.
The flag that draped the casket of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan is presented to his family at his burial with full military honors Saturday, July 9, 2022, at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. The plane McGowan, of Benson, was piloting was shot down on D-Day, June 6, 1944, over France. His remains were recovered in 2018 and identified in 2019.
Contributed / American Battle Monuments Commission

He concluded: “Thank you to the American Battle Monuments Commission for allowing one more amazing young man to join these other extraordinary young men and women at this beautiful memorial. You are not forgotten.”

The P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft McGowan was flying was shot down and crashed near the French city of Saint-Lô, in a field near the village of Moon-sur-Elle, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Location of Moon-sur-Elle, France.
U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, of Benson, Minnesota, was buried July 9, 2022, at Normandy American Cemetery in France. McGowan was shot down on D-Day near Moon-sur-Elle, France.
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071222.N.WCT.NormandyBurial.03
Paul Stouffer, nephew of 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, speaks at the burial of the U.S. Army Air Forces pilot whose plane was shot down on D-Day, June 6, 1944, over France. His remains were recovered in 2018 and identified in 2019. He was buried with full military honors at the Normandy American Cemetery in France on Saturday, July 9, 2022.
Contributed / American Battle Monuments Commission

Witnesses told the American Graves Registration Command in 1947 that the aircraft had burned for more than a full day and was deeply embedded in the ground. A recovery team removed aircraft wreckage, but searchers did not find McGowan’s remains.

As a result, his remains were declared non-recoverable, and his name became a part of the Wall of the Missing at Normandy American Cemetery.

In 2010, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command traveled to Moon-sur-Elle to interview witnesses and survey the crash site. During the survey, the team found numerous pieces of aircraft debris and recommended excavation of the site.

The site was excavated in July and August 2018, and possible remains were found. McGowan’s remains were identified in May 2019.

When McGowan was buried, a bronze rosette was placed next to his name on the Wall of the Missing to show that his remains had been found.

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”It is the American Battle Monuments Commission’s mission to care for those individuals who gave their lives in service to our nation, no matter how many years have passed since they made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Scott Desjardins, Normandy American Cemetery superintendent.

Scenes from the burial of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, of Benson, July 9, 2022 at Normandy American Cemetery in France. McGowan was shot down on D-day, June 6, 1944, over France. His remains were recovered in 2018 and identified in 2019. He was buried with full military honors with his family in attendance.
Scenes from the burial of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, of Benson, on July 9, 2022, at Normandy American Cemetery in France. McGowan was shot down on D-Day, June 6, 1944, over France. His remains were recovered in 2018 and identified in 2019. He was buried with full military honors with his family in attendance.
Contributed / American Battle Monuments Commission

“It is our solemn honor to provide Lt. McGowan a final resting place among those he served beside,” he said. “It is a privilege to be able to honor his service, achievement and sacrifice, as well as all those who have given so much in the name of freedom.”

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently, there are 72,639 service members still unaccounted for from World War II, with approximately 30,000 assessed as possibly recoverable.

Photos from the burial with full military honors of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, of Benson, on July 9, 2022, at Normandy American Cemetery in France.

Related Topics: BENSONMINNESOTAWORLD WAR IIWARMILITARY
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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