The Duchess of Dakota

Murray Lawler, a Linton North Dakota native, was a pilot during World War II. He was stationed in Great Britain and took part in D-Day on June 6, 1944. Lawler enlisted in the Army Air Corps in about 1942 and, despite his family’s doubts, he passed the corps’ test with only his eighth-grade education.

Lawler flew transport and paratroopers throughout the European Theater and received the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters for outstanding service in World War II. While in Great Britain, Murray met Margaret. She and her girlfriends from Nottingham were invited to a dance at the nearby American base, and it was there she met her future husband.

On D-Day, Lawler flew near St. Mere Eglise and dropped 18 paratroopers behind Nazi lines. “I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I don’t regret that I was there,” Lawler told the Emmons County Record in a 1994 interview.

According to Murray’s family, The Duchess of Dakota came into being around September, 1944 and was named in reference to Margaret. She told the American who was enchanted by English royalty that she was just “a plain miss.” Margaret recalls that Murray said, “If you can’t be the Duchess of Nottingham, you’ll have to be the Duchess of Dakota.”

The couple became engaged in October 1944, but had to postpone the wedding three times while they waited for permission from Washington, D.C. After the war, Lawler returned to Linton, and when all the soldiers had safely arrived home, his wife followed him. She was the first war bride to arrive in North Dakota, and she was welcomed by a crowd of people and a reporter who took her photograph and interviewed her at Bismarck’s train station.

Interestingly, an aircraft piloted by Murray in WWII was named SNAFU Special. This aircraft was sold to a Czechoslovakian airline, then to the French Air Force, then to the Yugoslavian military. The history of the aircraft was lost in the transfers to different entities, and after its last flight in 1994, the SNAFU Special sat next to an airstrip in Bosnia until a United Nations peacekeeper noticed it and remembered Merville Battery Museum’s search for a C-47 plane for display at the museum in Normandy, France.

While dissembling the plane in Bosnia, someone discovered a crew roster from World War II, Murray Lawler was on the roster. In correspondence with the pilots and their families, Marageret was located and confirmed that it was indeed her husband in the picture.

Museum Administrator Beatrice Guillaume expressed her gratitude to the troops who liberated France. “We never forget what the American young men did for us,” told Margaret.

The plane reached France at the end of November. It has been reassembled and was unveiled today at the Merville Battery Museum in the presence of a few of the World War II pilots and their families. It was unveiled in the same colors it bore on June 6, 1944.

Murray past away at 85 on July 23, 2006, and is buried in the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. Although she lost her lifelong love, through the reemergence and discovery of these two planes Margaret has found another reason to brag about her husband’s determination and integrity.

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