Peggy Harris married whom she considered the love of her life. After waiting for 70 years to find an answer, she finally uncovers the real reason as to why he had disappeared out of her life.
You could say Peggy Harris was a very trusting partner or that it was a different time altogether, that she was too in love with Billie because she never once questioned about where he wanders off. It was a little bit suspicious for her husband to just vanish into thin air especially after tying the knot six weeks earlier but she still felt that there was a perfect explanation, but it did feel weird.
Not Losing Hope
Peggy Harris would have to thicken her skin and also be up for dirty work in order to find out why Billie was gone without a trace. All her effort for all these years in trying to dig up how his husband disappeared went into vain. But this lady refused to lose hope and continued her search despite no evidence ever popping up that could potentially help her find him.
Their love story proves how when two people are really in love, that even the unknown cannot stop them from being apart. She may have lost and gotten hurt plenty of times in her life but it was not going to stop Peggy Harris from looking for Billie. It really is inspiring to see that although Peggy was completely in the dark about where her husband could be, she never gave up.
An Unconventional Meeting
Peggy Harris Seale was just 18 years old when she worked as an electrical instrument mechanic at the Altus Oklahoma Air Force Base. She was born in Vernon, Texas during the 1920s. Billie’s dad worked as a supervisor at Peggy’s workplace and that was where they first met. His dad felt like the two would make a great pair because Peggy Harris was smart, beautiful and thoughtful.
Not An Ordinary Girl
Peggy Harris was the only female working at Altus Oklahoma Air Force Base as a mechanic. During those times, it was not however that rare to see females in a typically male dominant workspace. Peggy Harris always made sure that she stayed true to herself not letting any bumps in her life steer her away from herself.
The Perfect Couple
Billie’s father was working in the propeller department and after he was well acquainted with Peggy Harris, he introduced his son to her. Billie was immediately drawn to who Peggy Harris was, driven and firm. Other women were all engrossed in trying to capture wealthy men for husbands while Peggy was here, feeling content to work and solve complicated mechanical issues. They were the right puzzle piece to each other.
Dating The Old Fashioned Way
The two’s first meeting was not at all the typical kind. They first communicated through the use of letters. Exchanging letters was the common norm back then, as to how people would get to know one another. It would be equivalent to today’s text messaging.
An Improper Act
As Peggy Harris would explain it: “There was an opening in the production control office so I took that job. Billie’s father was the assistant manager in the propeller department there. Soon after I came there he wanted me to write to his son who was a student pilot and I let him know that I did not write to men I did not know – particularly servicemen.” Peggy Harris did not want to be at all offensive to anyone.
Being In Control
As soon as Billie was informed by his dad about how Peggy Harris was, he took matters into his own hands: “I began to get letters from Billie. I was a little fearful of this man, who had not seen me but he thought I was okay. So when he came on leave (from the army), all of a sudden the door to the airplane opened and there was Billie Harris saying ‘Hello Peggy,’ and that was about it.”
A Strong Friendship
They were staying far from each other as Billie was in San Antonio and Peggy Harris was at the base. So sending letter seemed like a good way to exchange words. Their only was to meet was in the form of words in the letter and they started to look forward o each other’s letters. They began to feel closer to one another, as their friendship blossomed. Their letters began to get a little more flirtatious after each one was sent.
Tying The Knot
They were both very conventional in the way they handled their courtship. As they got closer, Billie wanted to marry Peggy, and soon they were engaged. As they got even closer, they made things official on September 22, 1943, in the state of Florida. Peggy would have never imagined what was to come.
Since they were extremely poor, Billed ended up giving Peggy his Vernon High School class ring in their wedding ceremony as he was way too broke to buy a legit wedding ring. Although it started off in a very sad beginning, it did not bother Peggy and Billie. They were content with just being husband and wife.
A Tough Beginning
Many questions started to rise up as to how they were going to start anew as a loving married couple. Since they were so dirt poor, the thought of starting their own family was a little too soon although they really wanted to. Billie was going to have to be the sole provider and things were only starting to get more confusing from here.
Sad News Came
The soon got very distressing news. Billie now had two things to celebrate: he married his one true love and had also been successful in completing his U.S, Army Air Corps pilot training at Brooks Field in San Antonio. He then received a notification that he was now upgraded to the superior rank of a second lieutenant. It was not the time for him to serve his country.
The Big Blow
The couple swore to work for the land and protect it from any threat. With that being said, they made a promise to stay together through thick and thin. They were still very new to their married life but now even the thought of having kids was out of the question.
Facing The Truth
Billie had no choice as he started to pack up to head for the headquarters. Peggy could not do anything but just stare speechlessly from across. He already made a choice to protect his land so he had to go. The idea of raising kids was going to have to wait until he returned. His return was also now very uncertain.
War World II went into full swing with young men trying their level best to show their skills and protect their country. Billie was anticipating the day he would be called and alas a report from Tallahassee informed home to give his farewells to his loved ones. Peggy in an interview about the 354th Fighter Group spoke about what ran through her mind then.
Women Felt Helpless
“His group was all taken to Tallahassee, and the wives were taken there to a huge hotel.” Then further instructions were given to the ladies, as Peggy explained: “When the men were called up, the wives were told to go home and not tell anyone that their husbands had been sent overseas until they had arrived there safely.” It was an incredibly hard time for Peggy as she now had to bid adieu to her husband of just 6 weeks.
Many Secrets Kept
Until their husbands had reached overseas, the wives were instructed not to tell a single person that their husbands had been drafted. For poor Peggy, hearing about how his husband had safely reached the land of Europe through a phone-call would be the final time she ever heard of him. The U.S Army did not handle passing all the information well so Billie’s whereabouts were now never heard of.
The army could not find a clear explanation as to where Peggy’s husband had disappeared to. The army’s Supreme Headquarters in Allied France had already informed her that Billie was on his way home from the war. But this was all false. She realized the authorities could not be relied upon so she took matters into her own hands as she felt she would need to find him herself.
Peggy was going through the toughest time revealing, “A telegram came – the moment I opened it, I went into pieces. After a while, I looked at it again, then I went down to the telegraph office and brought with me letters from Billie that were written after the date of the telegram. The telegram said, ‘missing: July 7th’, and I had letters, handwritten letters, dated after that. Later, they came up with ‘missing in action: July 17’.”
Not A Single Information
Peggy only had tiny bits of information and she tried to clarify everything herself: “I was told not to be concerned, that no doubt he was being ‘processed.’ Billie’s parents and I chose to believe that he was back in the United States. We were hoping that he was in a hospital somewhere and maybe just didn’t know who he was or had lost his memory. We had heard of cases like that.”
Seeking The Red Cross’ Help
Billie was gone for good although his parents and wife did their best to trace him. By March 1945, Peggy was sure her husband had passed away and that he was not coming back. She knew it was going to hurt like anything but still needed to find out the reason behind. She went seeking help from the International Red Cross.
Taking Small Steps
Peggy found new hope after seeking help form a new organization to help trace Billie’s fate. Although the Red Cross was not willing to initiate an official search for Billie, it was successful in unveiling little bits of information and gathering details that were missing before. There was newfound information about Billie that may have been an answer to Peggy’s many questions.
A Devoted Wife
Servicemen usually knock on the door of army wives and families to deliver bad news. Peggy Harris never ever received a knock on the door, a telegraph or any explanation whatsoever about how her husband had disappeared. After seven decades, Peggy never lost hope saying, “Billie was married to me all of his life, and I choose to be married to him all of my life.”
A Woman’s Strength
Just as her role in the Altus Oklahoma Air Force Base, Peggy remained different in her approach in life. She still maintained her drive and focus that she possessed even as a young mechanic. She showed the same character in her efforts to find her missing husband, Billie.
Countless Sleepless Nights
The information received contradicted each other. In one Billie was found dead and in the other, he was in fact missing. There was no way Peggy was going to raise a white flag. She had gone this far and there was no stopping her.
Rep. Thornberry announced that Billie was one of the missing troops in his speech. Still, in 2005, there was no trace of Billy Harris. Not only did Thornberry have absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but his team flunked out on carrying out proper research, hence insensitively throwing random, baseless assumptions into thin air. He later apologized for speaking about unclear information.
Mishandling Is An Understatement
Even after admitting how wrong his actions were, it still did not stop Peggy’s heart from searching. She did not realize that his cousin, Alton Harvey had known the truth all along. Of course, all of Billie’s family was committed to finding out whatever happened to him, but after years of seemingly endless digging, the search was over.
Piecing It All Together
Alton also expressed how he needed closure for himself as well. “Didn’t feel it was right that he just went off to war and didn’t come back – end of story.” He continued, You need to know what happened to him.” Alton then asked for Billie’s military record and decided to dig information up.
Harvey found out what happened to his cousin as he read the Department of the Army’s scattered and hidden files. He tried hard to uncover the truth but found that he was not the only one searching for his dear cousin. There was another person who was snooping through Billie’s files – a foreign French woman Harvey knew nothing about.
There It Was
This French lady had asked for the same files, half a year before Harvey did. He became even more curious to know what happens to his cousin when this woman was involved. After decades of uncertainty, finally, there was the truth, staring him blankly in the face.
Lieutenant Billie Harris was indeed posted the United Kingdom. On duty, his role was to fly a P-51 Mustang, supposed allied bombers and fly across the English Channel on a daily basis. His excellence in his craft won him a Distinguished Flying Cross award in addition to two other Air Medals consisting of 11 oak leaf clusters. Billie was a rare, preeminent soldier and patriot, but that was not all.
On His Way Home
After over 100 missions Billie was allowed to return home as of July 1944. He was overjoyed to be able to see his wife again and was excitedly on his way home. Sadly, fate had a different idea concerning Billie’s future, and so instead of boarding the ship he was assigned to, he had to be patient and wait for some time.
Heartbroken With Disappointment
Because of too many injured troops, Billie was going to have to show patience and wait a little while longer before he could head home. It was sad as there was no space for poor Billie, with the next ship scheduled to sail after a few weeks only. The ship was too small for everyone to board so Billie gave way and did not join them.
It Wasn’t His Time
Billie went on missions again as there was basically nothing to do before the next cruise. His last flying mission became his last time being alive. Sadly, Billie’s plane was shot down as he was flying over the town of Les Ventes in northern France. Billie was clearly crashing and he had a tough choice to make. He then did an unimaginable thing.
A Fatal Decision
Billie could understand after extensive training that he had been hit. He had to make a decision then and there, quickly. He could either eject himself out of the plane to save himself or divert the plane away from the French townspeople and inevitably plunge towards his death. This would be an impossible feat but Billie made his mind up.
His plane had crashed in the nearby woods of the town but it did not injure anyone. And turns out, the lady who was asking for Billie’s files was from that very same town Billie had saved that resulted in his death. That woman’s name was Valerie Quesnal. They were going to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the town’s liberation.
They Had No Idea Who He Was
Billie met with a lethal plane crash in the town of Les Ventes. They decided that the least it could do was honor his memory which is witnessed to date. However, the town did not have a lot of information about their hero, so they assumed the selfless pilot was a Canadian. They still speak of him fondly.
No matter where he came from, what Billie did was truly commendable. I was amazed that at such a young age Billie sacrificed himself for the sake of others, strangers he knew absolutely nothing about. Billie had always been the type to put other people’s needs before his and worked to keep others safe.
Way Back Home
As soon as she found out where he was she shipped him to her immediately. His remains were moved to a grave in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. His selflessness and act of bravery is something the people talk about admiringly in the French town of Les Ventes to this day. It is “the most decorated grave in all of Normandy” according to CBS News.
The Town Which Does Not Forget
Harvey found that “the citizens of the town snuck around when the Germans weren’t looking and had a little funeral for him and buried him in their cemetery.” His actions remained unforgettable even after all these years. According to CBS News, the townspeople march down the main road, fittingly named Place Billie D. HARRIS, three times a year. Les Ventes commemorated Billie’s grave despite his own wife being unaware.
A National Hero
The people f Les Ventes would help to get Billie’s grave decorated and maintained despite the fact that they were unaware if he had relatives or not. He would always be a memorable soldier that helped protect their town. Peggy would send flowers to the site ten times a year after finding out the location.
After finding of his plane crash, Peggy would regularly visit the site where it crashed. She made these visits with the assistance of Guy Surleau, the only witness still living who speaks highly of Billie Harris. Guy says he could have been more help but Peggy says, “I like to think that he was still conscious enough to know that a friend stood by him,” a sobbing Peggy said. “And that this man is that friend.”
If Alton Harvey had never uncovered Billie’s military documents, Peggy Harris would have never found closure. Although he ended up dying, she at least found out that it was for a noble cause. Peggy Harris never remarried despite searching for his husband for 70 years and only being married for 6 weeks.
In The End True Love Conquers
Peggy Harris makes sure she visits Billie’s grave every day. “When people speak of closure, they are people who have never experienced anything like this,” Peggy Harris explains. This is a true testament to what true love can do. Although her husband was gone for so long, Peggy’s love for him never died and hope was never lost until she found him again.