Being married to a soldier is probably one of the most difficult positions to be in. During World War II, many women found themselves in these circumstances. Peggy Harris of Vernon, Texas was one of these women, married to her husband Billie, a first lieutenant fighter pilot for the United States army. In June of 1994, the army called him to fight for the liberation of France in the battle of Normandy. Sadly, he never returned. Peggy, however, never got a straight answer as to what happened to her husband. It took her six decades, but she finally uncovered the truth.
Why Happened To My Husband?
Peggy and Billie Harris were married only six weeks when Billie received the call to join the fight during World War II. When the couple said their farewells, it was the last time they would ever see each other. Billie never returned from the war. What’s strange, however, is that Peggy never received any information. No one came to her door, sent her a telegram, or ever came to explain to her what happened to her husband. Ever dedicated to her husband, Peggy never remarried. (1)
“Billie was married to me all of his life, and I choose to be married to him all of my life,” she said.
At first, authorities reported Billie missing. Then, they reported him alive and that he was coming home. Sadly, this was false information. Peggy then received a letter saying that Billie died in battle and they had buried him in one cemetery. Then they told her no, wait, maybe those aren’t his remains after all.
The Waiting Game
The widow waited for weeks for answers. Those weeks turned into months and those months into years. Finally, several decades later, Peggy decided to write to her congressman. She wrote to them repeatedly. Finally, her final letter which she sent in 2005, was directed to Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas. He also happened to be the vice-chairman of the House of Armed Services Committee.
Thornberry replied to Peggy’s letter saying that Billie was listed as missing in action in the national archives. Billie’s cousin Alton Harvey, however, didn’t like that answer. He said it didn’t seem right that Billie went off to war, disappeared, and that no one knew what happened to him. He wanted to know and he wanted Peggy to finally know, so he began requesting Billie’s military records.
An Easy Search
It turns out that it wasn’t so hard to find Billie, a “missing” soldier. This is because he wasn’t missing at all. As it turns out, Thornberry never actually checked the national archives. Had he, he would’ve seen the truth. Billie wasn’t marked “missing in action”, rather, “k.i.a.” – killed in action. Not only that, he was buried with a clearly marked cross in the most famous cemetery in Normandy.
Since then, Peggy has been to visit her husband’s grave several times and sends flowers there around 10 times a year. Now, her husband has what officials call “the most decorated grave in Normandy”. They also believe she is the last widow to still visit.
Not The End Of The Story
Peggy went on to discover more about her husband’s death, which ended up being a rather heroic one. A fighter pilot, she learned his plane went down over Les Ventes, a small town in Normandy. He was on a path to crash right into the village. Knowing he was going to die, he still wanted to spare the lives of others. A skilled pilot, he steered his plane as it was hurtling toward the ground away from the village. (2)
The people of Les Ventes have been forever grateful for his sacrifice. So much so, that every year since then, they pay a special tribute to Billie and honor his memory. They apparently buried Billie in their own cemetery where mounds of flowers always adorned his grave. Later on officials moved his casket to the American cemetery in Normandy. The townspeople, however, still send his grave flowers several times a year. They even have a street named after him.
Six decades later, Peggy visits the town from time to time. The people always receive her with a hero’s welcome. There is one man still living in the town who was there when Billie’s plane went down, Guy Seville. He was one of those who ran to find Billie and was there with him when he died.
“I like to think he was conscious enough to know that a friend stood by him,” Peggy said.
- “For WWII soldier’s widow, a 60-year mystery finally solved.” CBS News. Steve Hartman. June 7, 2012.
- “On The Road: The Longest Wait.” Youtube. October 1, 2013.
This story originally appeared on Secret Life of Mom and has been republished here with permission.