A story that began in 1944 with the downing of a B-17 bomber in France ended on a sunny afternoon 79 years later at Maplewood Cemetery.
About 100 people gathered Monday as the dog tags of Staff Sargent Jackson McGill were returned to his family.
The ceremony featured Denise James playing “Amazing Grace” on a bagpipe and the Daleville Honor Guard providing a rifle salute and playing taps.
Retired U.S. Marine Lt. Colonel Valerie Prehoda, now living in France, detailed the story of how McGill’s dog tags were returned to Anderson.
On July 8, 1944, two days after the D-Day invasion commenced, the B-17 bomber was shot down. McGill, who was wounded, was taken to a citadel in a small rural French community to heal.
Seventy-seven years later, the American Legion, Department of France, helped return the remains of an American who died in World War II to Colorado. A barbecue was held Aug. 31, 2021, in France in appreciation of the Americans and French people who worked on the effort.
“The owner of a chateau was there with her gardener,” Prehoda recounted. “This old man pulled out a dog tag he found 30 years ago. He carried it in his wallet for 30 years waiting to meet an American who could return it to the soldier’s family.
“When he gave me the dog tags, I promised the gardener I would find the family.”
Prehoda enlisted the help of a historian in France, who discovered that McGill was buried at Maplewood Cemetery in Anderson.
The staff at Maplewood was alerted and, in turn, contacted the McGill family to coordinate the dog tags ceremony. They selected June 19, McGill’s 100th birthday.
The gardener’s family sent a grandson, Remi Trolle, to Anderson for the ceremony.
Karen McGill Young, Jackson McGill’s oldest child, attended, too, and shared stories about her father, who was born in Akron, Ohio.
The family moved several times, and he joined the Army Air Force in 1942 in Niagara Falls, New York. That same year, McGill met his future wife on a double date in Michigan. Thirteen dates later, he proposed.
Having survived World War II, McGill enrolled at Anderson College in 1948 and eventually graduated. He worked 30 years at Delco Remy and had several other jobs. McGill died in 2002.
“This is wonderful,” Young said after the ceremony. “Who would have ever thought they would take the time and effort to return the dog tags? It’s amazing.”
Matt McGill said his grandfather never talked much about his time in the military. But the younger McGill did learn this much: His grandfather, a radio operator who served in Normandy, was in three airplane crashes and twice was the only survivor.
“He went through some hardships,” Matt McGill said. “But he always put his family first.”
Martin Baier, honorary consul of France to Indiana, said it was an honor to be at Maplewood for Monday’s ceremony.
“Eighty years ago, Americans were the liberators of France,” he said. “They were France’s heroes and always will be. Jackson McGill did what he had to, did his duty.”
(c) 2023 The Herald Bulletin
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.