PITTSBURGH - A local veteran who served in the Army under Gen. George S. Patton helping liberate Europe in World War II will join six other veterans representing the nation's wars on Heinz Field shortly before the Steelers face off against the Buffalo Bills at 1 p.m. today.
The pregame ceremony is part of ATI's Salute to Heroes, and Steubenville resident and businessman Richard McGowan Sr. was chosen for the honor after being nominated by his son Richard Jr. Each veteran will receive a framed award from a Steelers' representative and also be filmed during the event. He also will have the opportunity to meet Steelers' owner Dan Rooney and players, according to Richard Jr.
McGowan Sr. attended a military school, and he grew up in the city, according to his daughter, Eliza McGowan.
HONORED — Longtime Steubenville businessman and World War II veteran Richard McGowan Sr. will be one of seven veterans honored for their service shortly before the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills football game at Heinz Field shortly before 1 p.m. today. -- Mark Miller
"My dad's parents lived in Steubenville their entire lives," she said, adding her father tried to enlist with every branch of the service after war broke out.
"I was in the Army - just a basic infrantryman," said the 88-year-old McGowan, adding he was nearly accepted into the service at 17 but was turned down at the last minute. He eventually was drafted when he turned 18, he added.
"I simply had to wait, and I was drafted into the Army," he said.
"I got (to Europe) after D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge," continued McGowan. "The Germans were reeling and retreating. At one point, I got a little too close to a landmine."
McGowan said he was driving a truck when a truck heading in the opposite direction hit a landmine. McGowan nearly lost his eyesight from the blast and still bears scars of the incident today.
"I never did find out what happened to the other driver," he said, adding he was nearly thrown out of his vehicle from the force of the blast.
The incident earned him a Purple Heart from the Army, he said, and, "I'm lucky as hell I didn't lose an eye."
McGowan's service took him to the battlefields along Patton's route, including France and Luxumbourg before meeting up with the allied Russians in Eastern Germany.
McGowan's service also took him to witness the darkest the war had to offer, and he personally saw crimes against humanity, he said.
"I was with the 89th Infantry Division, one of two to liberate the Ohrdruf concentration camp," he said. "It was a shocking sight."
McGowan said one of the worst moments of his military service was when he walked into the commandant's office and noticed a peculiar lamp sitting on the commandant's desk.
"I realized the lampshade was made out of a man's chest," he said, adding other horrors were there to witness.
Once the war was over, McGowan returned to Steubenville, where he eventually met and married his late wife Nina and became a successful businessman, along with eventually becoming a past president of the Steubenville Rotary Club; a past president of the Steubenville Chamber of Commerce; and a past president of the Steubenville Keep America Beautiful Campaign. He also became a board member for the Steubenville Salvation Army, the Civic Concert Society and the Steubenville Players acting troupe.
McGowan said the highlight of his military service was returning to New York City, where he eventually took a train back to Steubenville.
"On March 29, 1946, we sailed into New York Harbor," he said. "That happened to be my 21st birthday. And seeing that Statue of Liberty on my birthday - what a treat."