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William J. McGowan

391st Fighter Squadron, 366th Fighter Group

Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Forces

Entered the Service from:

Minnesota

Died:

6/6/1944

Memorialized on the Walls of the Missing

William J McGowan

2ndLt. William Joseph “Bill” McGowan was born on July 26, 1920 in Benson, Minn. McGowan had anticipated a career in journalism since his father published a local newspaper. 

After graduating from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, McGowan worked at several places, including the United Press in Madison, Wis, and as an editor of his father’s newspaper. In early February 1943, McGowan reported for training with the Army Air Corps.  

William J. McGowan as a child (front row second from the right) with his family.

After extensive training, McGowan received his 2ndLieutenant commission and pilot wings in December 1943. He then went to Harding Field, Baton Rouge, La. for fighter pilot training, where he married Suzanne Schaefer in February 1944. Two months later, he shipped off to England and was deployed with the 391stFighter Squadron, 366thFighter Group at RAF Thruxton. McGowan made fourteen missions as part of a number of P-47 fighter sweeps over France leading up to the D-Day invasion. He had flown over 30 combat missions in all.

McGowan at advanced training at Harding Field, Louisiana, early 1944.

On June 6, 1944, while on a low-level mission (the most dangerous types for fighter pilots) supporting the invasion on the Normandy beaches, McGowan’s P-47 was shot down. According to the official eyewitness account in McGowan’s missing aircrew report, Lt. Paul Stryker (who was killed in action later that year) said that the two pilots flew low to drop fragmentation bombs onto a train. They then pulled up surrounded by flak. Moments later, McGowan’s P-47 was hit. The plane crashed, bursting into flames near the village of Moon-sur-Elle. Not yet 24 years old, McGowan was posthumously awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart. He is listed as Missing In Action since his remains were never recovered. He was survived by his wife of four months, his parents and two sisters.

Eagle Pass, Texas airfield where McGowan received his 2nd Lieutenant commission and pilot wings.

Awards: Air Medal, Purple Heart

William J. McGowan is memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at Normandy American Cemetery.