Hurled Into War
Billie was hurled into the throes of WWII to fight for the U.S. in Northern France against the Nazi occupation. Just as Billie was ready to come home to visit his wife, the plans drastically changed and Billie never returned home. Peggy waited and waited to hear news of her husband. For almost seven decades, Peggy couldn’t move on or remarry, until something happened that would change her life forever.
Seven Decades Ago
It all began around seven decades ago. A small-town girl named Peggy Seale had just graduated high school while World War II was creating a horrific storm on the other side of the world. Men were being called to service, and Peggy knew she needed to help out.
Left All That She Knew
So she left her hometown of Vernon, Texas to start working at the Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, just across the border from her home state. Here, Peggy was employed as an electrical mechanic for a number of different instruments.
Peggy Seale was the only female mechanic on the entire base, and she quickly caught the attention of many men because of her talent and natural beauty. She even caught the attention of one of her generals who thought Peggy would be perfect for his son.
Caught The General’s Attention
The general’s son was an aviation pilot and stationed down in San Antonio at the time. The father tried to get Peggy to write his son, Billie Harris, but she just couldn’t bring herself to write a strange man she had never met.
So, Billie wrote to Peggy through his dad. Enclosed in the letters he would send to his father, Billie would also include a letter for Peggy. At first, Peggy was hesitant to answer, but soon it would become known that they were destined to be together.
Their First Acquaintance
“I worked with Billie’s father at that time,” Peggy said. “He was writing letters to [Billie], telling him about me, and I refused to write to him first or give him or his father my address. So he wrote a letter to me and put it in an envelope to his father to give to me. That was my first acquaintance with him.”
Soon, these letters turned into back and forth correspondence between the two young lovers. However, at first, it was harder to convince Peggy that they were meant to be together. She even actively tried to discourage him from wanting to be in a relationship with her.
Tried To Put Him Off
“I wrote to him that I loved opera and listened on Saturday afternoons. I thought that would turn any man off, but he wasn’t and he wrote back. I wrote him that I memorized poetry and he wrote back that he memorized poetry as well and he thought that was really great,” Peggy recalled.
Peggy tried over and over to dissuade Billie from wanting to be with her until the fateful day when the two finally met. While Billie was on leave he came to Peggy’s base, where his father was serving. The two met in a plane hanger at Altus AFB, and ever since that fateful moment, the two became inseparable. Their courtship lasted for months, with both of them writing back and forth to each other frequently, and soon enough, the love birds got engaged.
The couple married shortly after they got engaged in 1943. Just as they were enjoying marital bliss, news came in that Billie Harris was being transferred to Florida. He was due to be shipped out to Europe within a matter of weeks. Thew newlyweds couldn’t stand the thought of being far apart, so Peggy flew out to Florida to be with Billie.
Just Two Short Weeks
The two were given just two weeks to be together before Billie was to be shipped off to fight in the horror that was the Second World War. However, the plans would change once again.
Billie and Peggy were extremely poor, so instead of buying wedding rings, the two happily exchanged their high school senior rings. They were in love and nothing, especially money, was going to stand in their way. The couple had only been married six short weeks and were looking forward to their two-week vacation together when suddenly the vacation came to an abrupt end!
A German U-boat attacked a US vessel off the coast of East Florida, killing everyone on board, so Billie had to be shipped out immediately. If that wasn’t bad enough, the vessel that the Germans downed was full of aviator pilots; pilots that were desperately needed for the European war effort. What did that mean for Billy?
As a result of this sudden attack, Billie and his team were called up early. Even though young Billie was straight out of pilots school, he was given a promotion to 2nd lieutenant and sent off to the battlefields. Peggy didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the very last time she would see her husband.
Sworn to Secrecy
In the meantime, Peggy was sent back to Texas, but was instructed not to tell a soul where her husband had been sent. At the time, there were spies all across the United States, so people needed to remain tight-lipped about the whereabouts of the pilots. If the enemy discovered that there were more pilots on the way to Europe, they would have done anything possible to make sure they didn’t reach their destinations. Luckily, Billie managed to reach his intended destination.
Billie Harris was stationed in the allied United Kingdom and performed operations over Northern Nazi-occupied France. In fact, he completed around 60 to 100 different missions, an great achievement on its own. Given the number of missions he completed, he was allowed to return home. Thrilled by the prospect of going home to see his beloved wife once more, he raced to the boat to take him home. Only there was one problem! The wounded soldiers were first priority on the boat and there was no room for Billy.
Billie kept his spirits up, knowing that it was only a matter of time before he would be on a boat back home. He wrote a letter to his beloved Peggy, just to let her know that he had been delayed on his return. Peggy, of course, was not pleased when she heard the news of the delay. However, she was very thankful that her husband was safe and going to be on his way home soon, or so she thought.
Back to the Frontlines
Unable to return back home, Billie couldn’t just sit around waiting with a war raging on around him. He jumped back into his plane and headed back towards the war in an effort to rid France of the Nazi occupation. Days turned into months, and Peggy hadn’t heard a word from her husband. Then, one day, she received a correspondence from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. The letter said that Billie Harris had returned to the United States.
Peggy was ecstatic by the news that her husband Billie had returned and that they would soon be reunited. But yet again, as the time before that, days turned into months without hearing a word from Billie. Peggy was told not to worry that she hadn’t heard from Billie since his return to the United States. She was told that he was simply being processed, which could take some time. But Peggy and Billie’s family feared that something else had happened to him.
Where is Billie?
Peggy and her father-in-law were worried that Billie Harris had in fact returned to the United States but was in a hospital, gravely wounded. They also wondered if he had perhaps lost his memory and couldn’t even remember who he was. With that in mind, Peggy turned to the Red Cross to try to track down Billie, but that turned out to be far less than helpful. All the Red Cross told Peggy was that they were unable to launch an investigation into the whereabouts of her husband.
The Red Cross
The Red Cross assured Peggy that Billie was simply being processed, but that they didn’t have the funds necessary to locate him. She was also told that he should be in contact with her prior to the completion of an investigation. Many soldiers and wounded soldiers were returning home from Europe, which meant the Red Cross was simply unequipped to deal with the surge of investigations about missing persons. Peggy, however, wasn’t about to just sit around and wait for news.
Then one day the news came in. According to the United States Armed Forces, Billie Harris was listed as “missing in action.” The letter was dated July 7, 1944, but something just didn’t sit right with Peggy. She knew that something was amiss. Peggy Harris went back and searched her records. And sure enough, she was right. She had received a handwritten letter from Billie Harris dated after the 7th of July. She didn’t know what to think, but she hoped, and prayed.
Reports From Berlin
Peggy then received a report from Berlin that she had been fearing since her husband left for Europe: Billie had been killed in action. This was shocking to Peggy, but she knew that many reports coming out of Berlin at the time were unreliable. According to Peggy, they didn’t know who he was, where he was from, or how he was killed in battle. She didn’t want to believe the report, and years later she would discover that she had good reason to question its reliability.
Off the Radar
Peggy then decided to take matters into her own hands and wrote a letter to her congressman in Washington D.C. Surely someone there would be able to find some concrete answers regarding Billie Harris’s last whereabouts. Peggy hoped at the very least for some closure. She desperately wanted to know what really happened to her long-lost husband who suddenly dropped off the military’s radar. When she received a response from her congressman, all she got was that Billie Harris was still listed as missing in action.
Never Giving Up
As the years went by, Peggy kept waiting to hear any news about the fate of her husband. She eventually gave up hope that he was alive, but she wanted to know how he had died and where he was buried, at the very least. Only this would give her closure. Unfortunately, this crucial information wouldn’t see the light of day for almost 70 more years. Peggy never moved on from her one true love. “Billie was married to me all of his life, and I choose to be married to him all of my life,” she told CBS News.
Peggy Harris never gave up hope. By this point, she knew that he had most likely died in the horrific war, but at the very least she wanted to know where his remains were buried to gain some closure in her life. So, in 2005 she wrote another letter to her congressman in Washington D.C., Representative Mac Thornberry. She eventually received a reply from him, but it wasn’t what she had hoped for. According to the representative, Billie Harris was still listed as missing in action.
That wasn’t an answer that Peggy was pleased with, nor could accept. She knew that someone, somewhere knew where Billie Harris was and what had happened to him during the war. That’s when Billie’s cousin Alton Harvey got involved. Together, they called every organization that they could think of, which led them to check with the Arlington National Cemetery Archives. According to them, the process of looking into their records could take around six months. Just then, something surprising happened!
Just a few weeks after they put in their request to search for Billie Harris, Peggy got a very unusual call. Someone had already requested and paid for a copy of Billie’s records. An unknown French woman from Les Ventes, France. The copy of the records was sent to the woman in France. Peggy made it her mission to find out just who this mysterious woman was and why she had requested her husband’s records. When she finally made contact, Peggy was shocked by the reason.
The mission that Peggy and Alton thought would take months, turned out to be a very simple process. Since the records had been pulled so recently, what should have taken months, turned into a matter of a few minutes. The records clearly stated that Billie Harris had been killed in action. This was something Peggy and Alton both knew in their hearts, but needed to see written in black and white on an official document.
A Congressional Blunder
But if Peggy and Alton had so easily found the answer to their question, why had their representative in Congress told them Billie Harris was missing in action? Well, as it turns out, no one ever looked into it. Representative Thornberry issued a formal apology to Peggy Harris, stating that it was a mishandling of a highly sensitive matter, and apologized for any distress she had suffered as a result. Peggy, however, is a very forgiving woman and doesn’t hold any grudges against him.
The Annual Parade
But who was the mysterious French woman who requested Billie’s records? Turns out it was the mayor of the French village of Les Ventes; a place where the name Billie Harris was well known. In fact, he was considered a hero there! After Peggy got in contact with the mayor of the French city, she was invited to come to France to participate in one of their annual parades. They wanted her to witness the yearly parade, which includes a procession of the village’s citizens marching down a street called Place Billie D. Harris.
A Life of Death Decision
Billie Harris is considered a hero in the small hamlet of Les Ventes because he saved the entire village as well as countless other lives. During the war, the village was under the occupation of the Nazis where his plane was shot in combat. As his plane was falling down from the sky, it was headed straight for the village square, full of people. He had two choices, either eject and let the plane crash straight into the village square, killing people, or try to divert the plane.
Saving a Town
Billie made a quick decision and turned his plane away from the village, knowing that he wouldn’t have time to eject from the crashing plane to save his life. He crash-landed in a wooded area just outside of Les Ventes. The villagers, seeing what Billie had done for them and their village, raced into the woods to see if they could save the injured pilot. Sadly, it was too late for Billie and the crash proved to be fatal.
Billie the Hero
Peggy Harris arrived at the village, and to her surprise, she learned the tale of Billie the hero and how he valiantly save the townspeople. She was moved to tears to see that their main road was named after her late husband. In attendance at the ceremony were people that carried Billie’s casket to the local graveyard, and even the man who raced into the woods to check on Billie to try and save him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be saved, but his efforts moved Peggy nonetheless.
Billie Harris’ body was moved from Les Ventes to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial shortly after the war ended. There, on the gravestone, was his name clearly written: Billie D. Harris. It was the closure Peggy had been in search of for almost 70 years. Now that she knows where her dear husband is buried, Peggy sends him fl
owers at least 10 times a year. People say that Billie’s grave is the most decorated in all of the cemetery. Finally, Peggy can move on with her life as best she can.
Peggy Harris can now return to her hometown of Vernon, Texas knowing that her husband was not only a great man, but also a cherished hero loved by so many. His legacy will live on. Peggy Harris still remains married to Billie, refusing to marry again, and now she can be at peace. She visits her husband at the cemetery in France at least once a year and sends flowers to his grave frequently.