Sir Francis McGowin inside his Andalusia home. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

McGowin serves country, community

Published 12:00am Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sitting back in his high-winged chair while chewing the end of his pipe, Andalusia native Sir Francis McGowin talks history — his own and what he’s learned from the extensive collection of books he owns.

The amateur historian studies history and speaks on the subject – primarily the War Between the States – on a frequent basis at school events and historical gatherings locally and around the state.

Lining the walls and shelves of his downstairs room, what he calls “below deck,” are double-barreled guns from just about every conflict in American history, books on the outdoors, revolvers from the War Between the States and Marine Corps rifles.

The history goes on and on.

McGowin went active in the Marines in the 47th Riflery Company Reserve Unit in Montgomery at 17 years old. He married his wife, Anne, on Jan. 2, 1959, and said the couple would’ve gotten married on Christmas, but he was busy serving in Lebanon.

“That was more than 53 years ago,” he said.

McGowin said when he left the Marines, he transferred to fleet reserves in 1979. During his military service, he calculated that he had visited 51 countries.

McGowin recorded 2,147 parachute jumps, and more than 1,000 dives during his career in the military.

His highest rank in the military was general, after gathering intelligence when he was parachuting.

“I did some very interesting things, and I got to work with some very interesting people,” he said. “I got to see some presidents up close, and brief them. I got to go to places other people didn’t have the knowledge to go to.”

Some batallions he said he served with during his career include: the 1st batallion Marines in 1958; the 6th Marines during the Cuban missile crisis, 2nd Recon; he was a platoon sergeant in Vietnam, and from 1969-70 and part of 1971, where he was with the joint recovery center to get pilots out when they crashed.

In 1975, he fought in the last battle, and was an intelligence officer in the 2nd batallion, 9th Marines, and served in three branches of service in battle.

Upon his retirement from the Marines, McGowin went back to college to take a refresher course, and ended up graduating with degrees in forestry and physics.

Additionally, McGowin has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. His knighthood for the Queen was for services to the crown. He was also knighted in Scotland as well in the Knights of Malta in the order of St. John for his early involvement in Vietnam with a French legion. The Scottish knighthood is a charitable knighthood.

He then went to work for the forestry service for three years, and he left them and became the veterans officer for Covington County for 18 years. He also served as a Boy Scout leader for 36 years.

“When I went to work in veterans affairs for Alabama, I discovered it was almost like being a minister with a flock,” he said. “You’ve got all of these people you’re dedicated to help. You have to follow it up and fight for them and you have to get them the benefits they earned.”

In his free time, McGowin also hosts Boy Scout troops and teaches them many things.

“We host Boy Scouts and teach them canoeing, and teach them how to cook outdoors and camp,” he said. “I’ve been invited to colleges and institutions to speak on history. Right now, almost all of my invitations are to talk about the War Between the States.”

But, behind the amateur historian and lover of books facade, McGowin said he’s just a “simply country boy.”

“I’m very fortunate where I’ve gotten to work and what all I’ve been exposed to,” he said. “When I was young, I was surrounded by real heros. My father, uncles and older cousins of mine had gone to war and fought.

“All of my platoon sergeants and commanding officers — they were men,” he said. “They weren’t necessarily pretty, but they were men, and they had a code they lived by and were true to it. I was fortunate to be around them. It shaped my whole life.”

One thing McGowin said many people may not know about him is his love of children.

“I care a tremendous amount about the children and the future of this country,” he said. “I donate to two charites in Alabama-Edmonds in Selma that feeds children, and the other one is St. Jude’s in Montgomery.”

But, when it comes down to it, McGowin said he’ll always have a “thirst for knowledge,” and that his home is a testament to it.

“When you go in every room, you see good books on book shelves lined up in bedrooms, everything,” he said. “That’s what defines me. I have a thirst for knowledge.”

McGowin has three sons, Steve, who works as a patrol officer for the Andalusia Police Department; Dan, who is a construction foreman; and Kenneth, who is the chief engineer on large oil rigs. He has two deceased children, Katrina and John.

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