George Stanley McGovern

Military

Object Number - UPL 43540 - Senator from South Dakota

Born in Avon, South Dakota, on July 19, 1922, U.S. Senator George McGovern worked to end the Vietnam War and helped reform the Democratic Party to better represent minority groups. He ran for the U.S. presidency in 1972 but was defeated by incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon. McGovern died on October 21, 2012, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at the age of 90.

McGovern served as a pilot in World War II. He received several air medals for his service, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was assigned to Liberal Army Airfield in Kansas and its transition school to learn to fly the B‑24 Liberator, an assignment he was pleased with. He recalled later: "Learning how to fly the B‑24 was the toughest part of the training. It was a difficult airplane to fly, physically, because in the early part of the war, they didn't have hydraulic controls. If you can imagine driving a Mack truck without any power steering or power brakes, that's about what it was like at the controls. It was the biggest bomber we had at the time."

In September 1944 McGovern joined the 741st Squadron of the 455th Bombardment Group of the Fifteenth Air Force, stationed at San Giovanni Airfield near Cerignola in the Apulia region of Italy. Starting on November 11, 1944, McGovern flew 35 missions over enemy territory from San Giovanni, the first five as co-pilot for an experienced crew and the rest as pilot for his own plane, known as the Dakota Queen after his wife Eleanor.

On McGovern's 15 December 1944 mission over Linz, his second as pilot, a piece of shrapnel from flak came through the windshield and missed fatally wounding him by only a few inches. The following day on a mission to Brüx, he nearly collided with another bomber during close-formation flying in complete cloud cover. The following day, he was recommended for a medal after surviving a blown wheel on the always-dangerous B-24 take-off, completing a mission over Germany, and then landing without further damage to the plane. On a December 20 mission against the Škoda Works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, McGovern's plane had one engine out and another in flames after being hit by flak. Unable to return to Italy, McGovern flew to a British airfield on Vis, a small island in the Adriatic Sea off the Yugoslav coast that was controlled by Josip Broz Tito's Partisans. The short field, normally used by small fighter planes, was so unforgiving to four-engined aircraft that many of the bomber crews who tried to make emergency landings there perished. But McGovern successfully landed, saving his crew, a feat for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

On March 14 1945 McGovern had an incident over Austria in which he accidentally bombed a family farmhouse when a jammed bomb inadvertently released above the structure and destroyed it, an event that haunted McGovern. Four decades later, after a McGovern public appearance in that country, the owner of the farm approached the media to let the senator know that he was the victim of that incident but that no one had been hurt and the farmer felt that it had been worth the price if that event helped achieve the defeat of Nazi Germany in some small way.

McGovern was discharged from the Army Air Forces in July 1945, with the rank of first lieutenant. He was also awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, one instance of which was for the safe landing on his final mission.

George's 35th and last mission was on April 25, 1945. The mission was to bomb the rail yards at Linz, Austria. Flak knocked out their hydraulic lines which meant they would not have brakes to land and they would have to hand crank the wheels down for landing. George had them hook parachutes to the waist gun mounts and prepare to deploy them when they landed. George gave them the go ahead and the parachutes were deployed and eventually stopped the A/C at the end of the runway.

Connections

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Units served with

  • Unit Hierarchy: Group
  • Air Force: Fifteenth Air Force
  • Type Category: Bombardment

People

  • Military/Civilian/Mascot: Military
  • Nationality: American
  • Unit: 455th Bomb Group 741st Bomb Squadron
  • Highest Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
  • Role/Job: Navigator

Places

Events

Event Location Date Description

Born

Avon, South Dakota 22 July 1919

Enlisted

Omaha, Nebraska, USA 31 July 1942

Died

Sioux Falls, South Dakota 21 October 2012

Buried

Washington, District of Columbia, USA Rock Creek Cemetery Plot: Section O, Lot 449

Revisions

Date29 Sep 2021 20:49:27
Contributorjmoore43
Sources

Updated Enlisted event.

Date15 Sep 2020 11:41:18
Contributordecwriter
Sources

NARA files verified ASN upon entry, officer number, DFC and AM w/3 oak leaf clusters. Without personnel records it is unknown how many campaigns he participated in regarding the EAME Campaign Medal but it was at least one.

Date3 Aug 2020 16:46:16
Contributorjmoore43
Sources

Added info about his last mission per the book "The Wild Blue" by Stephen Ambrose".

Date23 May 2020 17:16:51
Contributorjmoore43
Sources

Added Buried event per Find-a-grave Memorial ID 99300470.

Date23 May 2020 17:11:06
Contributorjmoore43
Sources

Added the DFC award mentioned in the "Summary biography" section.

Date23 May 2020 17:05:45
Contributorjmoore43
Sources

Added a connection to the Airfield mentioned in the "Summary biography" section.

George Stanley McGovern: Gallery (1 items)