Monday, May 25, 2020
Though our family has had several young members who served in the military in our country, they have almost all outlived their years of service by decades. This past weekend, giving thought to the upcoming holiday today and its annual designation as a memorial to those who had died while in military service, my husband and I began discussing the one family member we know had given his life in service to his country.
Joseph Edward McGonagle was a cousin to my father-in-law. Five years older than his Chicago cousin, Frank Stevens, Joe had registered to serve on October 16 of 1940. Unlike Frank, who was barely seventeen when news of Pearl Harbor rocked the nation, Joe was already twenty one. By the time each of them was in the service, Joe was assigned to the European arena while Frank eventually headed to the Pacific in the Navy.
Young McGonagle went off to war a newlywed, but from the point in Oklahoma where they married, he never got to see his bride again. Assigned to the 388th Bombardment Group, he was stationed out of RAF Knettishall in the region of Suffolk, England.
Joseph McGonagle served as a radio operator and flew three missions with the team under 2nd Lieutenant Allan Olavi Amann, the pilot. The first two missions were completed in early March of 1944. The third, on March 8, ended in a crash near Magdeburg, Germany. All but one of the ten crew members died; the remaining man, waist gunner T/Sergeant Harold Quick, was taken as a prisoner of war.
Now, besides the military headstone marking his grave at the Ardennes American Cemetery at Liège in Belgium and the family's own memorial to their son in his hometown in New Lexington, Ohio, various groups have sought to memorialize those who served during the second World War through online remembrances, as well. Like many other such groups, the 388th formed their own association, which is now celebrated online with a website of general information, as well as an online database detailing the many operations of the 388th.
It was from that last website that I found the details about my father-in-law's cousin Joseph McGonagle and those he served with when he saw his last moments before the mission's abrupt end. It was on that website that I realized how much of our memorials are crowdsourced, with opportunities for families to help memorialize their fallen relatives by contributing photographs and other resources on the pages of websites such as this.
Each of the personnel has a page in the listings—though sadly, as in Joseph McGonagle's case, where a photograph could be placed, the listing includes the note, "No photo available."
If I had one, of course I'd love to contribute a digitized copy to a memorial such as this. I'm sure many other family history researchers would be happy to assist in gathering such resources, as well. Connecting with the right source for making such a contribution can be as simple as finding the specific assignment of the military member of your family, then searching online for that term—such as "388th Bombardment Group" in this case— and following the links not only for the story of their history, but for any related associations formed after the war which are still in existence now.
It's a small challenge to surmount, but what a potent way to acknowledge those in our own families who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Though so many of that generation are now gone, we still would do well to remember their service.