U.S. Army Air Forces pilot killed on D-Day laid to rest in Normandy 78 years later

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A 23-year-old who was killed during the World War II invasion of Normandy has been laid to rest nearly eight decades later. U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. William J. McGowan was buried at Normandy American Cemetery "with full military honors" on Saturday, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).

Lt. William McGowan. / Credit: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
Lt. William McGowan. / Credit: Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

McGowan's P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft was shot down over France's Moon-sur-Elle on June 6, 1944. Three years later, the American Graves Registration Command visited the site where the plane went down after receiving a tip from a French citizen, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). An investigator learned from witnesses that the Thunderbolt, which was embedded deep into the ground, had burned for more than a day. Authorities recovered some of the wreckage but didn't find McGowan's remains.

McGowan was officially declared non recoverable in December 1947 and was listed on the American Cemetery's Walls of the Missing for nearly 80 years, the DPAA said.

Then, in 2018, McGowan's remains were found during an excavation by a team from the St. Mary's University Forensic Aviation Archaeological Field School from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Officials in a DPAA lab identified the remains as belonging to him in 2019, the agency said.

William J. McGowan is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery on July 8, 2022. / Credit: Courtesy of ABMC
William J. McGowan is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery on July 8, 2022. / Credit: Courtesy of ABMC

His family requested that he be buried in the American Cemetery, and many family members traveled to Normandy for the Saturday ceremony.

"When we were asked where we wanted the final resting place of our uncle to be, we did not hesitate," McGowan's nephew, Paul Stouffer, said in a statement. "We feel [Lt. McGowan's parents and siblings] would be comforted knowing that their son and brother is buried here … Lt. McGowan will be laid to rest alongside 9,386 brothers and sisters who also gave the ultimate sacrifice, while in uniform, in service to their country. 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."

U.S. Air Force Lt. William McGowan is buried with full military honors at the Normandy American Cemetery on July 8, 2022. / Credit: Courtesy of ABMC
U.S. Air Force Lt. William McGowan is buried with full military honors at the Normandy American Cemetery on July 8, 2022. / Credit: Courtesy of ABMC

A rosette was placed next to McGowan's name on the Walls of the Missing to show that he has been identified. Almost 1,600 service members are still listed as missing, according to the ABMC.

"It is our solemn honor to provide Lt. McGowan a final resting place among those he served beside," Scott Desjardins, the superintendent of the American Cemetery, said in a statement. "We are charged with preserving and sharing Lt. McGowan's story and the stories of the fallen or missing who are buried or memorialized within our sites. 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."

Family members of Lt. William McGowan attend his burial ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery on July 8, 2022. / Credit: Courtesy of ABMC
Family members of Lt. William McGowan attend his burial ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery on July 8, 2022. / Credit: Courtesy of ABMC
Lt. William McGowan's tombstone in the Normandy American Cemetery. / Credit: Courtesy of ABMC
Lt. William McGowan's tombstone in the Normandy American Cemetery. / Credit: Courtesy of ABMC

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to show that Lt. William McGowan served under the U.S. Army Air Forces.

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