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Benson WWII soldier, killed on D-Day in France, to be laid to rest Saturday in Normandy American Cemetery

The remains of Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, a Benson native killed June 6, 1944, in France, will be buried in the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on Saturday.

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Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, a Benson native, was killed on June 6, 1944, just miles away from the D-Day beach landings. His remains were recovered in 2018 and will be buried Saturday in the Normandy American Cemetery in France.
Contributed / American Battle Monuments Commission
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BENSON — Nearly 80 years after he was killed just miles away from the D-Day beach landings on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France, Benson native Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan will finally be laid to rest on Saturday in the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, overlooking Omaha Beach.

McGowan will be given full military honors during his interment, with members of his family in attendance, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission, which manages the cemetery.

The remains of an Army Air Forces pilot from Benson have been recovered and identified in France. The pilot, 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, was killed June 6, 1944, on D-Day.

McGowan, who was flying a mission in a P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft plane, crashed June 6, 1944, near the city of Saint-Lô, France, according to a 2020 press release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Command.

The crash site was investigated in 1947, and his remains were considered non-recoverable. In 2010, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Command resurveyed the site and, in 2018, McGowan's remains were excavated. He was officially accounted for on May 13, 2019, by DPAA scientists, according to the commission.

"Burials like these are quite uncommon, as you can imagine, but remain an important reflection of the nation’s commitment to account for and honor every U.S. service member who has perished on foreign soil," said Ashleigh Byrnes, media operations manager for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

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Approximately 20,668 Americans were killed during Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allied invasion of western Europe which was launched on what is now known as D-Day, June 6, 1944, according to U.S. military records. There are 9,386 burials in the Normandy American Cemetery. Another 1,557 names are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing.

More World War II:
An editorial cartoon by Steve Benson
“I don’t like it. It’s not right,” World War II veteran Vern Otterson said. “We were fighting against the Nazis. They were horrible. Why should anyone be running around selling Nazi stuff?”
The family of 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan was able to lay him to rest Saturday, 78 years after the 23-year-old pilot's plane was shot down on D-Day. His remains were recovered in France in 2018 and identified in 2019.
The family of 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan was able to lay him to rest Saturday, 78 years after the 23-year-old pilot's plane was shot down on D-Day. His remains were recovered in France in 2018 and identified in 2019.
Photos from the burial with full military honors of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, of Benson, on July 9, 2022, at Normandy American Cemetery in France.
Eighty years ago this month, the first of 6,000 soldiers came to the Twin Cities during World War II to be trained at a covert military intelligence language school. Most were Nisei, born in the United States to Japanese immigrant parents. They would later be shipped to the Pacific theater to intercept radio signal communications, translate captured battle plans, interrogate prisoners of war, and even crawl toward enemy lines to spy on Japanese commanders.
Letters and diary entries spell out the family impact of losing two of their three sons in just six months.
For Memorial Day, an American military cemetery in Cambridge wants to honor the Americans (including North Dakotans and Minnesotans) who are buried there with photos beside their grave markers. Maybe you know one of these men.
Minnesota 96-year-old Arnold "Buck" J. Zahratka told reporters that he was amazed by the commendation and reflected on his service in the U.S. Army during the pivotal battle.
The remains of an Army Air Forces pilot from Benson have been recovered and identified in France. The pilot, 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, was killed June 6, 1944, on D-Day.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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