Norwood honors Lowder on 80th anniversary of final mission

Pilot’s sacrifice led to partnership with French town

The Town of Norwood paid tribute Monday to one of its native sons, 80 years to the day of his final action of service to his country.
The Pilot
On July 8, 1944, James Paul Lowder Jr., a Norwood native in the US Army Air Corps, died in action while piloting a P-51 Mustang Fighter.
Lowder was the son of James Sr. and Pauline Ledbetter Lowder, who lived in “The Fork” area south of Norwood.
The senior Lowder was a World War I veteran who served as a school principal and later a state senator, and his wife, better known as “Miss Polly” to the people of Norwood, taught hundreds of local children to play the piano.
Having been promoted to first lieutenant the previous day, Lowder was returning from a strafing (low-altitude) run over targets in Germany when his plane went down in a wooded area just outside the French village of Jouarre. Other pilots in the squadron witnessed the crash, as did three village residents, but its cause remains undetermined to the present day.
VFW Post 6183, based in Norwood, was named in honor of Lowder in 1946, but no further recognitions of his service took place until some 68 years later when a group of French veterans from Jouarre decided to find out more about the American pilot who had lost his life as a member of the allied forces defending their home country.
The Emissary
In 2014, Graeme Wright (currently an educator living in Virginia) was in Paris, and had been hiking near Jouarre, about 50 miles outside the French capital. Along the trail, a marker about a World War II event caught his eye and piqued his curiosity. Upon inquiring about the event, he was told to contact Claude Pottin, president of the local chapter of “Le Fraternelle,” an organization of French war veterans.
Wright learned from Pottin that the organization had initiated a project called “Operation Mustang,” which had set the goal of identifying the pilot of the crashed P-51 and honoring his memory. Project volunteers had utilized military records to find Lowder’s name and hometown, and Pottin relayed this information to Wright, who contacted the VFW Post in Norwood. With Wright fluent in both French and English, he agreed to help Pottin locate the pilot’s family, and in turn, he was referred to Les Young, a Post 6183 member, and an authority on Norwood history.
The Contact
“I had not thought about Lieutenant Lowder in years,” Young said, “but Graeme told me about the effort to honor him, and that the mayor and citizens of Jouarre were supportive of the effort.”
Wright’s contact with Young led to a delegation from Norwood traveling to Jouarre in July 2015 for a ceremony marking the 71st anniversary of Lowder’s final flight. After an effort was made to locate relatives of Lowder, nephew Bo Shipplett was identified as the closest remaining kindred, but he was unable to make the trip. So, distant cousin Chester Lowder, along with Young, led a nine-person delegation to Jouarre for the ceremony.
The Delegation
The group visited the graves of Lowder and brother-in-law Wallace Shipplett, who had died in the crash of his B-17 bomber near Berlin six months after Lowder’s death (the family had requested the two be buried side by side in the American cemetery at Epinal), before continuing to Jouarre.
At Jouarre, the Norwood contingent received VIP treatment.
“We saw the red, white, and blue carpet rolled out,” said Lowder. “We were housed in a 1700s-era chateau, we were fed four-course meals, and we were treated to three full days of events.”
“We had very little free time,” added Young. “They had everything planned for us from dawn to dusk.”

Six members of Norwood’s delegation to Jouarre in 2015 were, from left, Les Young, Sally Young, Frank Lee, Sarah Lee, Ann Lowder, Chester Lowder. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

At the ceremony, Jouarre honored Lowder’s memory by unveiling stone markers in town and at the crash site. The marker in town bore Lowder’s image, and the marker at the crash site carried the story of the crash in both French and English along with a picture of a P-51 Mustang. During the ceremony, attended by hundreds of locals, a flyover by a P-51 took place, along with presentation of flags by an American color guard and flowers given to the delegation members. The group also met the three Jouarre residents who had witnessed the crash 71 years earlier.
And, as a final tribute to Lowder’s heroism, the town added his name to a monument listing Jouarre soldiers who died in World War II, symbolically adopting Lowder as one of its own.
The Partnership
Despite being separated by language and an ocean, Norwood and Jouarre share more similarities than differences. Both are approximately the same size. Both are rural, with farming being a major driver for both towns’ economies. Both are also located where two rivers join: Norwood at the fork of the Pee Dee and Rocky, and Jouarre at the confluence of the Marne and Petit Morin.
When the towns learned of their shared legacy through Lowder, the concept of setting up a “Sister Cities” partnership seemed a natural next step. Young and Wright took the lead and worked together to spearhead the efforts to establish the partnership, along with Mayor Fabien Vallee of Jouarre.
The work performed by Young and Wright came to fruition on March 5, 2018, when the Norwood Town Council, members of Operation Mustang and Bob Hooks, commander of the Norwood VFW post, approved Norwood becoming an official sister city with Jouarre.
The Significance
According to a 2015 Charlotte Observer story, Europeans have erected memorials and held remembrances to honor the sacrifices thousands of Americans made in World War II to liberate them from the grip of Nazi Germany, with such ceremonies increasing during the late 2010s to allow participation by those veterans still alive.
John Wessels, at the time a deputy secretary for the American Battle Monuments Commission, stated, “Every day in villages across France and Western Europe, we are reminded of just how much support the American sacrifice receives overseas, and how it continues to resonate. We see tangible evidence day in and day out of European support for the American sacrifice.”
According to Wikipedia, Sister City relationships are defined as “an agreement between two geographically and politically distinct localities for the purpose of promoting cultural and commercial ties.” The partnership between Norwood and Jouarre is one of hundreds of such linkages between municipalities in the USA and other countries. The partnership is unique, however, in that the two towns, separated by 4,153 miles and one ocean, are now connected because of the service and sacrifice of a single heroic veteran.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.