A Benson hero’s remains confirmed on eve of D-Day

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By Reed Anfinson
And Paul Stouffer
Bill McGowan nephew

Seventy-five years after allied forces stormed the beaches at Normandy, France, by air and sea, the family of Lt. Bill McGowan finally knows for certain that he died D-Day, June 6, 1944.

 “Last week I was advised that remains recovered in Normandy during the summer of 2018 have been confirmed as those of Lt. McGowan,” his nephew Paul Stouffer of Montana wrote the Monitor-News May 28. “We finally have closure on this – and something for almost 75 years my grandparents, his then wife Suzanne, my mother (Mary Jo McGowan Stouffer) and Aunt Pat McGowan, now deceased, never heard confirmed.”

Near the small village of Moon Sur Elle in France, not far from the beaches of Normandy, there is a monument recognizing Lt. McGowan’s sacrifice. It reads:

Lest We Forget
En hommage a ‘l’aviateur Americain
Lt. William J. McGowan
Age 23 from Benson, Minnesota, USA
Who gave his life near this location
D-Day 6 June 1944
“Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Thursday America and allied countries that participated in the D-Day invasion 75 years ago at Normandy are honoring the men who died June 6, 1944 for their heroism. The day marked the beginning of the battle to defeat Hitler in France, driving his forces back to Germany. They surrendered May 8, 1945, less than a year later.

Lt. McGowan’s name is included among the more than 2,500 Americans who died on D-Day.

Lt. Bill McGowan
William McGowan was born in Benson in 1920, the son of Joe and Mary McGowan. Joe was the publisher of the Swift County Monitor. After graduating from Benson High School, he attended the University of Missouri School Of Journalism in Columbia, MO, graduating in September 1942 with a degree in journalism.

Following graduation he was employed by the news service United Press in Madison, WI, for several months before returning to Benson to serve as editor of the Monitor-News. However, not long after he was called for training in February 1943.

McGowan received his pre-flight training at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas, and was then sent to the Air Corps Technical Training Command 2nd Technical Training District in St. Louis. He received his advanced flight training at Eagle Pass, Texas.  

McGowan received the silver wings of an air force pilot and his commission as a second lieutenant at Eagle Pass Dec. 5, 1943.  Following a 10-day leave to visit his family in Benson, he was sent to Harding Field, Baton Rouge, LA., for further pilot training.

On Feb. 5, 1944, McGowan was married to Suzanne Schaefer, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Schaefer of Winona, in a ceremony performed at the post chapel at Harding Field.  They made their home in Baton Rouge until he was sent overseas to England in April 1944. 

There he was assigned to the 391st Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 366th Fighter-Bomber Group, Ninth Army Air Force as the pilot of a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber. His plane was armed with eight 50-caliber machine guns and could carry five-inch rockets, or a bomb payload of 2,500 pounds.

McGowan made 10 sorties and four combat missions before the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

As more than 160,000 allied troops readied to land on the beaches of Normandy, Lt. McGowan’s 366th Fighter-Bomber Group took off from its base in England to target gun emplacements, strategic buildings, and German convoys near Omaha Beach.

That afternoon McGowan and his squadron mates from the 366th Fighter Group, most of who were on their third mission, continued to provide support for the troops landing on the beach. Sometime during his flight over Normandy McGowan’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire...

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