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William Joseph McGowan


After nearly 75 years, the remains of Lt. William J. McGowan were positively identified in May, 2019. While on his 3rd mission on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Lt. McGowan was leading a group of P-47's on a strafing and bombing mission on the Lison railroad station south of the landing beaches when his plane was shot down. He did not survive the crash.

Prior to joining the Army Air Corp, McGowan anticipated a career in journalism following in the footsteps of his father Joseph, then publisher and editor of the newspaper in Benson, Minnesota. McGowan graduated from St. Thomas Academy of St. Paul, Minnesota and the University of Missouri’s prestigious School of Journalism in Columbia in September 1942, where he also enlisted. Prior to being called up, McGowan had been a journalist for United Press based in Madison, Wisconsin and editor of the Swift County Monitor-News, his father’s newspaper, before reporting to the Army Air Corps for training in February, 1943.

In December, 1943, McGowan received his 2nd Lieutenant commission and pilot silver wings with the class of 43-K at Eagle Pass, Texas. He then went to Harding Field, Baton Rouge, Louisiana for advanced fighter pilot training. While there he married fellow Minnesotan Suzanne Schaefer in a small ceremony at the Harding Field post chapel. In April, 1944 Lt. McGowan was assigned to the 366th Fighter Group in England where he commenced his career with the 391st Fighter Squadron.

Leading up to the D-Day invasion, Lt. McGowan had made ten sorties and four combat missions as part of a number of P-47 fighter sweeps over France. Although his remains were missing for nearly 75 years, his dog tags had been recovered after the crash. A small memorial to Lt. McGowan continues to be maintained by the residents of the village of Moon-Sur-Elle, adjacent to the crash site. Not yet 24-years old, Lt. McGowan was posthumously awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart.

On the 5th of June, the day before the 75th anniversary of his death the Bozeman (Montana) Daily) Chronicle announced "Now 75 years after D-Day, the remains of Army Air Corps Lt. William J. “Bill” McGowan have been positively identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) using DNA evidence."


Units served with

  • 366th Fighter Group

    366th Fighter Group

    The Group moved in England over the New Year of 1944, setting up home first at Membury and then at Thruxton. The pilots' first mission was a fighter sweep of the French coast in March 1944 and from then until D-Day that June the ground supported Allied...

  • 391st Fighter Squadron


Associated Place


Event Location Date
Born Benson, MN 56215, USA 26 July 1920
Died Moon-sur-Elle, צרפת 6 June 1944

Lt. William “Bill” J. McGowan was a pilot during World War II. The P-47 he was flying on D-Day, June 6, 1944 was shot down while on a low-level strafing and bombing mission south of the landing beaches in Normandy, France. He did not survive the crash.

Buried 1956

Commemorated on the Wall of the Missing, Army-Army Air Forces Tablet 32, Veteran 14

Accounted for Moon Sur Elle, France 16 May 2019

In 1947, based on information provided by a French citizen, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) investigated a crash site near the village of Moon-sur-Elle that was possibly associated with McGowan’s loss. An AGRC investigator travelled to the site and learned from witnesses that the aircraft burned for more than a full day after impact and it had been embedded deeply into the ground. An AGRC team removed wreckage from the impact crater but failed to locate McGowan’s remains. As a result, on Dec. 23, 1947, his remains were declared non-recoverable.

In 2010, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC, a predecessor to DPAA) travelled 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 the site for excavation.

In July and August 2018, a team from the St. Mary’s University Forensic Aviation Archaeological Field School, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, excavated the site at Moon-sur-Elle, under a partnership agreement with DPAA. The team recovered possible osseous material. The remains were sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis.

To identify McGowan’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.

The DPAA confirmed the identification of McGowan's Remains on 15 May 2019

Buried 26 June 2020


Date Contributor Update
11 February 2020 03:49:31 PastPilots44 Changes to nickname and biography

Swift County Monitor (Benson, Minnesota)
(1) Journalism Grad Takes Job With U.P.: Sept. 25, 1942
(2) Missing in Action: June 23, 1944
(3) Benson Fighter Pilot Now Presumed Dead: June 29, 1944
(4) French Town Honors Benson Pilot Who Died on D-Day: November 9, 2011
Ouest France
Les restes d'un pilote US tué en 1944 enfin identifiés: January 22, 2020
Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle
Pilot killed on D-Day identified after 75 years: June 5, 2019
The War We Fought: 366th Fighter Group Hun Hunters 1943-1946
Rails & Haies: la double bataille du pays d'Elle et de Lison, Marcel Leveel, 2004
McGowan Family Records

Date Contributor Update
15 January 2020 09:36:17 Emily Changes to events and place associations

Date Contributor Update
09 June 2019 16:13:35 RayWells Changes to biography

Information received via FB Group WWII Air War Over Europe.

Date Contributor Update
21 January 2015 12:38:45 Gilad_Bashan Changes to awards

Paul Stouffer

Date Contributor Update
21 January 2015 12:08:04 Gilad_Bashan Created entry with surname, middlename, firstname, nationality, service number, highest rank, role, biography, events and unit associations

I want to thank William McGowan's nephew, Paul Stouffer, who generously provided this information. We offer this material in tribute to William J. McGowan and many other brave pilots and servicemen who fought Nazi forces in Europe.