This is the inscription from the head stone photo below taken by me while on vacation in Tuscany Italy in 2017.
William M. McLean
2 LT 736 BOMB SQ 454 BOMB GP (H)
ILLINOIS NOV 11 1944
Our tour group stopped to visit the Florence American Cemetery one morning on our way to visit Siena and a winery that day. Now if you’re like me you probably know about the American Cemetery at Normandy. In fact there are 12 such cemeteries in Europe from WWII and 7 more from WWI. Now this was not my first visit to a military cemetery, I’ve even have help with the Wreaths across America who each December on National Wreaths across America Day, coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,600 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad. Their mission is to Remember, Honor and Teach.
As I was saying, this was not my first such visit and with this being Memorial Day weekend this visit has been on my mind. I took over 150 photo’s that morning and this one stands out because someone stills cares enough to place flowers and flags in memory of William. It wasn’t till later I realized that it was one day off from being 73 years to the date of his passing.
I tried to see what I could find out about William though Ancestry I found out his mother’s name was Sadie and he left a wife named Ruth age 23 back in Illinois. Although I could not find out any more info on William this is what I found on his unit.
Flying from Italy, the group flew 243 missions on over 150 primary targets in Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and Poland. During this time, 13,389.19 tons of bombs were dropped during 7,091 sorties on enemy marshalling yards, oil refineries, bridges, installations, airdromes, rail lines, etc.
The 454th participated in the drive to Rome, the invasion of Southern France, and the defeat of Axis forces in northern Italy. The 454th was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for similar action on the high priority Messerschmitt Aircraft Factory at Bad Voslau, Austria on 12 April 1944. It earned a second DUC for “outstanding performance of duty in armed conflict with the enemy” as a result of their mission against the Hermann Goering Steel Works in Linz, Austria on 25 July 1944.
After the German Capitulation in May 1945, the 454th redeployed to the United States on 8 July, unfortunately William like thousands just like him was not one of them.
Why did I choose to write about William? He is not related to me and until my visit to on that day in 2017 I’ve never heard of him. It’s the fact that I was able to be there and enjoy my freedom on that day that I wanted to tell his story. It’s because of the hundreds of thousand like William who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom that earns and frankly demands our respect not just this weekend but every day!
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering and honoring people who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.