Finding true love in this life is an indescribable feeling. It brings people together and helps them through difficult times. Love emerges as a powerful force in the darkest days, rekindling hope.
Peggy Harris and Billie D. Harris, of Vernon, Texas (USA), were fortunate enough to experience a once-in-a-lifetime love, but their story was filled with endless twists and turns and a puzzle that took more than six decades to solve.
THE CALL OF DUTY
In June 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower gave the final call for the Allied invasion of Normandy, France. Several American soldiers were deployed to fight for the liberation of France in the following months. Among them was Lt. Billie.
Peggy and Billie had been married only six weeks when he left to answer his call to duty. Like a devoted wife, Peggy said goodbye to her husband and wished him well.
As a fighter first lieutenant, Billie was called up to help the Allied forces fight the Nazis. He fought bravely and embarked on a mission in enemy-occupied northern France on July 17, 1944.
A FAITHFUL WIFE
Tragically, Billie never returned from that mission. Peggy waited for years to hear from her husband. However, there were no knocks on the door, no telegrams, nothing definitive to explain what happened to him during World War II.
Despite the lack of answers, she remained faithful to the love of her life and never remarried.
“Billie was married to me all his life, and I chose to be married to him all my life,” Peggy expressed.
Reports from U.S. forces were totally confusing and misleading. Initially, Billie was reported missing in action. Later, he was said to be alive and returning home. Later, Peggy received a letter notifying her that he had been killed and was buried in a cemetery.
Next, another missive said he was buried in a different cemetery. Peggy was tired of all the conflicting reports, but she waited. Days turned into months, months into years, and years into decades. She never got an answer.
Finally, Peggy wrote to her congressman. The woman contacted him repeatedly, demanding answers about her husband’s fate. In 2005, she received a letter from Congressman Mac Thornberry, stating that Billie was still listed as “missing in action” in the National Archives.
“KILLED IN ACTION.”
One more person was not satisfied with the congressman’s response and was determined to solve the mystery surrounding Billie’s disappearance: his cousin Alton Harvey. Soon after, he began looking for information.
Harvey mentioned that he didn’t think it was right that his cousin went off to war and didn’t return. So he requested Billie’s military records. What he discovered left him speechless.
It turned out that Congressman Thornberry had never clearly checked the papers as he claimed, because Billie was listed as “killed in action” in the National Register. Furthermore, the papers indicated that her grave was in the American cemetery in Normandy, France.
A TRUE HERO
After learning the whereabouts of her late husband’s grave, Peggy began visiting the cemetery. According to the caretakers, she was the only widow left to visit her spouse’s grave.
Peggy sent flowers at least ten times a year when she couldn’t go alone, making Billie’s grave the most ornate in Normandy. But there were still many things this Army widow didn’t know.
Billie’s plane had gone down in a small village in Les Ventes, France, and the main street of the village was named after him. Amazingly, the townspeople had been honoring Billie’s sacrifice for their freedom every year since his plane was shot down.
LOVED AND REMEMBERED
The villagers buried Billie with great respect and initially assumed he was Canadian. In 2004, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of France, two French citizens, Valerie Quesnel and Mr. Huard, discovered that Billie was American and shared this information with U.S. officials.
After Harvey uncovered the mystery surrounding Billie’s disappearance and Peggy learned the whole story, she visited Les Ventes in June 2012. The villagers told Peggy that her late husband maneuvered the plane out of crashing into the village and saved many lives.
The townspeople considered Billie a hero and continued to pay tribute to him several times a year. Sixty years after her husband’s disappearance, Peggy was relieved to learn the full story of what happened to him. She was also filled with pride at her late husband’s selfless act of bravery.
Billie will forever be remembered by Peggy, the people of Les Ventes.