A story, 71 years in the making

By Sgt. 1st Class Kristen Duus

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Malcolm Harris Livick was a teenager the first time he heard the name William W. Shank. He didn’t think about the name again for 71 years.

U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Shank, a native of Harrisonburg, Virginia, was a pilot with the 338th Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, 66th Fighter Wing, 8th Fighter Command, 8th Air Force. He was killed in action on Nov. 13, 1943, while flying his P-38 on a mission to Bremen Germany. Due to enemy-occupied territory, his remains could not be recovered.

Livick moved to Harrisonburg as an adolescent, attending Harrisonburg High School. On May 30, 1947, the school dedicated a plaque to 27 former students of Harrisonburg High School, all who had given their lives during the war. Shank’s name was included on the list, 23rd, in an alphabetic honor roll. During the ceremony, Livick, a senior, was selected to accept the plaque on behalf of the school.

“The idea of this memorial plaque started in the Boys Hi-Y Club of this high school,” said Livick during his 1947 speech. “When the boys started plans to raise money for the memorial, the town became interested. In 1947, this memorial was dedicated to the honor and memory of the 27 boys from our high school who gave their lives for our freedom.”

“The names inscribed on this plaque shall not be forgotten,” continued the speech. “May the cause for which they so valiantly fought, the cause of liberty, justice and tolerance, be so inscribed on our hearts and minds that through our influence and our love for mankind, these, our fellow students, may not have died in vain.”

Livick then went on to live his life. He spent four years in the United States Air Force, met the love of his life, Linda, raised five children and held down a 46-year career at Augusta Military Academy and Blue Ridge Community College, before retiring in 2001.

All the while, Shank remained un-accounted for. Missing for decade after decade.

Then, in March 2018, a morning news quip came on the radio. The news stated that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) had identified the remains of Shank. He was no longer missing and would be returned to his hometown.

“My first thought was I wonder if he was any kin to Pete Shank,” said Livick, referring to a high school friend. While Livick was friends with Pete generations earlier, he was never aware that Pete had an older brother, much less a brother who was killed during the war.

Livick rummaged through decades worth of documents, finding the original program and speech he had given during the ceremony seven decades earlier.

“I wish I had better memory of it,” said Livick, sitting in an easy chair at his home in Fort Defiance, Virginia, less than 18 miles south of where he spent his teenage years.

Overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, Livick’s home shows time reminiscent of his military service, his children, grandchildren, and beloved pets. Now, at 89, he reflected on memories that precede all the memories on his walls.

While he may not reach back to 1947 as well as he once could, a slight tear welled up in his eyes as he recognized that another family, a family he connected to so long ago, was finally bringing their pilot home.
“To be able to find these remains and give them back to their families—to give these families closure, it is so wonderful,” said Livick.

However, Livick feels an even closer connection than just linking back to his speech. His son, Todd, is the Outreach and Communications Director for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

“I called Todd and let him know that William Winston Shank’s remains had been identified,” said Livick. “He said, ‘I know, Dad, we sent that out.’”

Having a son who works within the agency that finds remains of missing war dead has changed the elder Livick’s perspective. Though always grateful for the mission at hand, he now has a more thorough understanding and appreciation for what DPAA does.

“Nothing is more important than bringing our men home to their families,” said Livick.

Shank will be buried July 14 in his hometown with full military honors, bringing both his and Livick’s story full circle.
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