Valdosta Daily Times

August 5, 2013

World War II veteran honors others

Desiree Murphy
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — When one thinks of a person who would volunteer their time to go on a flight and help World War II veterans see the sights of Washington, D.C., thoughts of a young civilian or maybe a young soldier from a more recent military time may come to mind.

However, John McGowan, now an 87-year-old World War II veteran himself, opted to be a volunteer instead of an honoree on a 2007 Honor Flight trip from South Georgia.

The Honor Flight program allows World War II veterans the opportunity to fly to Washington, D.C., free of charge to visit their memorial, which is an opportunity many of them may have never received otherwise. McGowan, who is older than some of the veterans who made this journey, said he felt he could get around well enough to pay for his own trip and help some of his comrades get around.

McGowan was responsible for the care of three veterans on the trip, one of whom was confined to a wheelchair.

McGowan stated that the man in the wheelchair was twice his size, but that he was happy to wheel him all around Washington, D.C., so he could enjoy the same experiences as everyone else.

It was also on this flight in 2007 that John McGowan met Arthur Brown. Both men spent the trip getting to know each other and discovered they joined the Navy just a few months apart in 1943. Six years later, the two men continue their friendship.

They frequently have lunch together, communicate via phone, and celebrate special life events together. McGowan and his wife even took Brown on a trip to St. Marys for a WWII gathering for submariners.

“Arthur has always been so appreciative of everything I do for him, even though sometimes I feel I have more fun than he does,” chuckled McGowan.

So where does such a generous man like John McGowan come from? Well, John McGowan’s life started in Quitman. One of four children, his family moved to Valdosta when he was just 4 years old.

“I used to ride my bicycle from Valdosta to Quitman when I was a boy to visit my grandparents. That’s something you can’t even do today,” said McGowan as he reminisced about the Valdosta of many years ago.

He spent his first three years of high school delivering papers for The Valdosta Daily Times in the late 1930s. McGowan explained that “back then you had to buy a route at $1 per customer. I paid $100 for my route and had a 101 customers. I couldn’t believe what a bargain I got!”

It was after this time that he decided to join the Navy in 1943 when he was proud to be able to serve his country.

Upon leaving the Navy, he went into business with Register Clothing, which was located in Downtown Valdosta, for four years until he felt called to the ministry. However, his military service didn’t cease entirely as he chose to join the Air Force reserve as a chaplain.

During all of this, he took the time to receive his bachelor of arts degree in English and speech from what was then Valdosta State College. He recalls his graduating class being only about 500 students. He was one of the few males to graduate from Valdosta State College as it had then just changed from being Georgia State Women’s College.

For a man who has devoted a total of 32 years of his life to military service and 62 years to ministries, one might think he would be spending his time lounging around. However, he is still out making differences in lives by spreading the gospel.

McGowan and his wife also spend time taking a group of widows, all of whom had McGowan preside over their husbands’ funerals, out to lunch on a regular basis.

It is clear that no matter how many years pass, John McGowan will continue to touch the lives of everyone he meets.