A Fighting Love
What would you do if you met the love of your life and soon after they had to go off to war and fight one of the evilest dictatorships in the world at the time? This is the predicament that Peggy Harris faced more than 60 years ago when her husband Billie went off to fight the Nazis. Peggy remained faithful to her husband, reveling in the belief that her husband should return home soon. But this did not happen.
Fate Takes a Turn
Peggy’s husband Billie was one of the United States pilots flying for the Air Force during World War II. Due to the lack of technology at the time, Peggy did not have a phone number to dial when her husband failed to come home, but this did not stop her from getting worried immensely. She did the only thing she knew to do and turned to her local government representative in order to find her vanishing husband.
It was only six weeks after their wedding that Billie took off to fight from the Nazi oppression that was slowly taking over Europe. Even when separated Peggy never stopped loving her husband and remained faithful to him the whole time. She had almost given up hope of ever finding him when she sought out help in one of the last places she ever thought she’d find it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first we have to find out Peggy’s story.
Peggy Harris was actually born Peggy Seale and is originally from Vernon which is located just near the Texas-Oklahoma border. She was born in the 1920s and by the time she was 18, Peggy was working at the Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. There she worked as an electrical mechanic for various technological instruments. In fact, she was the only woman that was working at the base, and caught the eye of a keen male. It was Billy’s who instantly thought she and Billie would be a great match.
Altus Air Force Base
The Altus Air Force Base located in Oklahoma was originally established in order to train pilots that were heading out to fight in World War II. It is placed strategically in the center of the country so that it is easy to either transport equipment or refuel planes whenever deemed necessary. This is an important place, because a lot of significant things happened here for Peggy and for Billie. For more of this story you have to keep reading!
The Courtship Commences
Billie’s father worked as an assistant supervisor and specialized in propeller maintenance. He suggested for Peggy to write a letter to his son who was living in San Antonio at the time. If you think that’s just a little bit forward, you’re not the only one! But, Peggy took a chance on love and wrote to Billie. Granted, they were at first just friendly pen pals, but soon things took a turn and the courtship began! He was her type, on paper.
Love at First Sight
Well if you don’t believe in love at first sight, you are about to. As soon as they met, they fell in love and it wasn’t long before they got married at a destination wedding all the way in Florida. However, times were tough in 1943 and they didn’t have much money to spend on wedding bands. Instead they exchanged their class rings from high school. As far as low maintenance goes, Peggy is on the mark. She was only interested in the symbolisms of the whole thing.
A Great Calling
Although they had only been married for six weeks, Billie was called off to war and so the couple were split up once more. He had just finished his fighter pilot’s training course in San Antonio Texas and had risen up the ranks to second lieutenant. This meant that he could be called at any time to go fight the Nazis, and this happened, separating the newlyweds before they got a chance to really know each other properly.
Historic Brooks Air Force Base
Even though this base closed down in 2011, it is still rich in its history. It was built back in 1917 in order to be a training ground for pilots going to fight German forces in World War I. since its closing there have been a few places that opened there in its place. For example, the Texas A&M University opened a satellite campus and in 2016 the University of Incarnate Word also opened a School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Sworn to Secrecy
Spilling her story to a website which was created in order to honor and memorialize Billie’s unit, Peggy claims that Billie’s group was relocated to Tallahassee in Florida which is where their wives were also taken. There they were afforded the luxury of spending one last night with their husbands before they were shipped off to war. They were instructed not to tell anyone that their husbands had left until their safe passage to where they were headed had been confirmed.
You are probably well aware of the term, “loose lips sink ships,” but have you ever stopped to ponder the meaning behind this? The phrase is centered on the fact that during the Second World War the United States was crawling with spies from both Germany and Japan. On the other hand, there were many American spies in Germany too. This meant that civilians were not allowed to talk about troop deployments in case someone was to relay this information to the enemy.
The Last Correspondence
When the ship that Peggy’s husband Billie was on arrived in Europe, she received a message of her husband’s arrival. Unfortunately, this would be the last time she would ever hear from him before he vanished. When she did not hear from him for a while she tried to contact the authorities, but the people at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force which was situated in France told her that Billie was in fact back in his home country.
Who Were the Supreme Allied Commanders?
The World War II allied forces in Europe which were otherwise known as the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force were there to try and keep the Nazis at bay. They were not, however, interested in America at the time. The Headquarters had their arms full with trying to curb the Nazi invasion from Africa, specifically Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Algeria. Want to know what happened next? We don’t blame you. Keep reading to find out what happened to Peggy’s vanishing husband.
Is He Home?
When Peggy called to find out what happened to her husband, she was told not to get too worried, because according to their papers, Billie was in the US. They said that he was probably still getting processed and that he would be home in a short while. Peggy on the other hand thought that maybe Billie was lying in a hospital somewhere in America with memory loss. As you can imagine she was worried and wanted to find out his whereabouts as soon as possible.
No Help from the Red Cross
Quite a while had now passed since Peggy had heard anything of her husband’s location, but she still waited patiently and earnestly for any leads as to his whereabouts. Even after the war had ended she still had no idea where her husband was. This is when she contacted the Red Cross to find out if he had come up on a casualty list, but they flat out refused to help her. In this instance they should have opened up an investigation to find him but did not.
Dead or Alive
It is never easy to find out your loved one has been injured, or even worse, killed in combat, so you can imagine the turmoil that Peggy went through when she dug up a report which stated her husband had been killed in action. She was filled with sadness, but this soon turned around when she stumbled upon two other reports which stated he was alive but missing, giving her hope that he was still out there somewhere. Peggy’s representative in Washington also told her he was missing.
It is difficult to comprehend how someone may not care about your loved one’s whereabouts, especially when they were in another country fighting for the freedom of others. But the Representative of the Texas 13th congressional district seemed to be unfazed by Billie’s case, either not having the time of the will to do anything about it. Surprisingly enough a French woman was also after the same files which Billie’s brother requested. Later authorities apologized for neglecting this case and others similar to it.
The Easiest Missing Persons Case Ever
Alton Harvey, Billie’s cousin who requested the files to find out his status believed it would take months, if not longer, to find out what happened to him. In actual fact the secretary who went to find his records spent a total of a few minutes to find the solution to the mystery. There it was, printed in black and white. Billie Harris – killed in action. It was later exposed that the congressman had never even looked into it.
The files on Lieutenant Billie Harris said a lot more about his skills in the 354th fighter squadron. Billie had been posted to a British Royal Air Force Base in the Southern part of England. There he was a P-51 Mustang pilot, where he flew escort missions, bombing anyone in Nazi occupied territory. It was also revealed that he was an exceptional flyer who had earned various medals including two Air Medals, 11 oak leaf clusters and a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Finding Out the Facts
Finally finding out what had happened to Billie must have been a relief to the family. When going on one particular mission Billie was flying over the woods of a small village of Les Ventes in France. His plane was shot down and he ended up dying in the crash. It seems that this small village had been honoring Billie ever since then and the French woman after his records was one of those people from that village.
Saving the Town
Billie’s death was a terrible tragedy. This was nothing compared to what could have happened if things went the way they were supposed to. According to reports, after his plane was shot down and falling quickly it was actually cascading towards the square in the village which was jam packed with people. In addition to his loss of life, hundreds of other people could have been killed. Billie did one last heroic thing and veered to the side, steering the plane away from the village down below.
Canadian Or Not?
It was later discovered that the French woman who was looking for Billie’s records was Valerie Quesnel and she was interested in the reports because the town that she was from was interested in celebrating the 60th liberation anniversary from the Nazis. This made the town interested as to who it was that saved them. Initially they believed that Billie was a Canadian pilot, but actually found out later that he was in fact American. Amazed? There is so much more to come so stick around.
Saving the Town
Isn’t it amazing when you hear of heroes saving others that they have never met before? If you thought that Billie was just your regular pilot, you would be wrong. It was discovered some time later that Billie could have saved himself and his life if he wanted to. It was impossible, however, to ditch the plane and go unscathed while the townspeople also lived. Billie made a last-minute decision to sacrifice himself instead, saving the residents of the small French town.
Les Ventes’s Adopted Son
The people of this town really know how to treasure and treat a war hero, and Billie was no exception. After word got out as to how he managed to sacrifice his own life for the lives of the townspeople, they adopted him as their own. In fact, everyone in this town is aware of Billie’s story to this day and have even named their main road after him. Can you believe that all the while this was happening in France, his own wife had no idea where he was?
The Beginning of a Friendship
When Councilwoman Valerie Quesnel began looking for further information into Billie Harris she had no clue that this would lead to her meeting his wife. When she did get her hands on them she found out a short time later that Peggy was also looking for the fallen pilot’s records. This led to Valerie forwarding his details to Peggy and them starting a glorious and lifelong friendship. Peggy had no idea that her husband was so famous in a little town all the way across the world.
The Landing Site
There is still one man in the small town of Les Ventes that recalls what happened on that fateful day. Peggy is welcomed with open arms every year and pretty much treated like a queen there. A few members of the community gather and walk to the site where it all happened, and he recalls what went down that day. This is sometimes overwhelming for Peggy, but she is more than delighted to know that her husband is a decorated war hero and lived out his mission in saving others.
First Found By the Partisans
When Billie’s plane went down, French resistance fighters saw that it had not caught on fire so they scrambled to beat the Nazis to the crash site. With the Nazis on their heels, they were able to find a trove of documents on the pilot who had unfortunately died. They rapidly scanned his name etched on his jacket, “Billie D Harris” and assumed it actually said Billie D’Harris which to them sounded like it might be a French-Canadian name.
Faithful to the End
When Billie’s body was found there were many items still on him. The Nazis discovered these items which included his ID tag which had his name and home address on there as well as a four-leaf clover which was encased in glass. The most heartwarming item, however, was what they discovered on his hand. He was wearing a ring with a kitten on it. That was the exact ring that had been gifted to him by Peggy on their wedding day.
Although Billie’s remains had initially been stored in the town’s cemetery, they were eventually moved to a new plot at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. This is one of the spots that includes the most decorated of graves in the cemetery. Peggy returns to this site virtually once a year as well as to the place in the woods where her husband’s plane fell. As faithful as Billie was to Peggy during their short marriage, it seems that she is just as faithful in the aftermath of his passing.
The P – 51
Did you know that the plane that Billie flew was the P-51 Mustang which was the main model the United States Army Air Corps used during the Second World War. It was also used in the Korean War and was a favorite because it packed a punch! Around 15,000 of these planes were made and they were great because they were very quick and agile making it easy to chase away Nazi birds. They’re still around today, all you have to do is dish out $1.8 million for your own.
A Decorated Site
Once Billie’s remains were finally buried, it happened in the cemetery of the small village, Les Ventes. Believe it or not he was buried in the section reserved for war heroes. They created a giant iron cross which stood over the grave and people came from far and wide to witness this great man’s funeral. You could see just how grateful they were for his sacrifice as they put down a mass of flowers that were two feet tall upon his grave.
A Home Away From Home
As soon as Peggy found out as to Billie’s whereabouts it made it possible for her to visit her husband’s grave regularly. You probably will not be surprised to know that his grave is one of the most decorated in the cemetery and this is because even when she is not able to visit, Peggy sends flowers over around ten times a year commemorating all the important dates. Valentine’s Day, Billie’s birthday, Memorial Day, Christmas and their wedding anniversary are just some of the times this will occur.
Hitting the Prime Time
Back in 2012 CBS News ran a story on Peggy and her husband. It was a two-part story with the infamous Steve Hartman. The first part of the story takes place in Texas where Steve learns about what it is that happened all those years ago. The second part aired the next day and showed Peggy in France visiting the little village of Les Ventes that still celebrates her husband to this day. The special story ran for the commemoration of 70 years since D-Day landings.
Online Comments Fueled by Anger
As you can imagine, when the CBS story aired, a lot of people took to online social media platforms in order to vocalize their thoughts on the matter. A ton of people were touched and brought to tears by the story, whilst others could not believe that Peggy did not move on in her life and remained faithful to Billie. Another group of people were especially angry at the fact at the congressman who failed to act and brushed Peggy off. It gets better!
A Congressman’s Apology
We are all for turning over a new leaf, but please have a look at this apology and decipher whether or not it really is that sincere. Mac Thornberry, a congressman that represents Peggy’s district in Washington finally put out an apology following a news report on Peggy and her story by CBS. The apology came via social media. There was no personal phone call, letter, but a measly apology to a woman who waited her whole life to find out what happened to her husband. Does Peggy even have Facebook?
Reporting the Full Story
It was said that after CBS ran the story on Peggy, the station contacted the office of Mac Thornberry and in turn he wrote a statement which was then issued to the station. In said statement, it is reported that Mac Thornberry said that no comment would be made in relation to this story because all constituent inquiries are to be kept confidential by law. The office said that they sent the statement to the station, but they never reported on it, so who is telling the truth here?
Honoring Billie To This Day
A couple of years back Peggy was invited to a ceremony held in her hometown Vernon, Texas. The Altus Blue Knits an Honor Guard from the Altus Air Force Base held a flag folding ceremony in order to honor her husband Billie. The ceremony itself was conducted by Col. Ted Detwiler, a commander of the 97th Operations Group. Impressed? We must say we are too, but there’s more to come of Billie’s story and we want to tell it to you so stick around!
Not the Only One
When you really stop and think about it, Peggy has the most remarkable story and she has the courage that many of us lack. However, the sad part is that she is not by far alone in this. There are many families that share similar, painful stories such as Peggy’s. In fact, at this very moment there are around 83,000 American service personnel who are to this day classed as missing in action. That means there are 83,000 American families wondering what happened to their loved ones.
True Closure For Peggy
It is incredibly hard for us to put ourselves in Peggy’s shoes as we have not been through what she has experienced. Through all the agony, hope and uncertainty that she has lived through in the past six decades she says that she is now finally at peace in that she has closure. How she waited and remained faithful to a man for that long we will never know, but this is perhaps the true definition of a unique love that we are yet to comprehend.
Marching in Billie’s Honor
The small village of Les Ventes surely takes their war heroes seriously. In fact, the residents of this town march three times a year for the fallen soldiers and comrades that died during the fight against the enemy forces. On May 8th they commemorate the Allied victory in Europe. On August 22nd they remember the day that their town was freed of Nazi rule and on November 11th they march once more in commemoration for fallen soldiers.