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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
”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.
“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.