The US Air Force lieutenant killed on D-Day was buried “with full military honours” in Normandy almost 80 years later
A 23-year-old killed during the Normandy invasion of World War II has been buried almost eight decades later. US Air Force Lieutenant William J. McGowan was buried “with full military honors” at Normandy American Cemetery on Saturday, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).
McGowan’s P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft was shot down over Moon-sur-Elle, France, on June 6, 1944. Three years later, the American Graves Registration Command visited the site where the plane crashed after receiving a tip from a French national, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). An investigator learned from witnesses that the thunderbolt, which was buried deep in the ground, had been burning for more than a day. Authorities recovered some of the debris but have not found McGowan’s remains.
McGowan was officially declared unrecoverable in December 1947 and was listed on the walls of the American Cemetery’s Missing Persons for nearly 80 years, the DPAA said.
Then, in 2018, McGowan’s remains were found during an excavation by a team from St. Mary’s University Forensic Aviation Archaeological Field School of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Officials at a DPAA lab identified the remains as his in 2019, the agency said.
His family requested that he be buried in the American Cemetery, and many family members traveled to Normandy for Saturday’s ceremony.
“When we were asked where we wanted our uncle’s final resting place to be, we didn’t hesitate,” McGowan’s nephew Paul Stouffer said in a statement. “We feel [Lt. McGowan’s parents and siblings] would be comforted to know that her son and brother are buried here…Lt. McGowan is buried alongside 9,386 brothers and sisters who also made the ultimate sacrifice while in uniform serving their country. Thank you to the American Battle Monuments Commission for allowing another amazing young man to join these other extraordinary young men and women at this beautiful monument. You are not forgotten.”
A rosette was placed on the missing persons’ walls next to McGowan’s name to show that he has been identified. According to the ABMC, almost 1,600 soldiers are still missing.
“It is our solemn honor, Lt. To offer McGowan a final resting place among those with whom he served,” Scott Desjardins, the superintendent of the American Cemetery, said in a statement. “We are tasked with investigating the story of Lt. McGowan and the stories of the fallen or missing buried or remembered at our sites to preserve and share. It is a privilege to be able to honor his service, his achievement and his sacrifice and all those who have given so much in the name of freedom.”