A Widow’s Journey to a Husband’s Valor

July 17, 1944

1st Lt. Billie D. Harris USAF and wife Peggy

Peggy and 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris (USAF) were married six weeks prior to his deployment in WWII.  Billie, a fighter pilot, would fly his last mission on July 17, 1944 over Nazi-occupied northern France.  With his plane shot down, he crashed into the woods near a small town in Normandy and did not survive.

Peggy, however, would receive no telegram or a knock on the door, nothing definitive to explain what had happened to her husband during his WWII service.  Initially he was reported missing, then alive and coming home, followed by a letter stating he was killed and buried in one cemetery, and then buried in another.  “Perhaps those weren’t his remains at all” would soon follow.

American planes flying over Northern France 
July, 1944

For Peggy, it was extremely frustrating and painful as she continued to wait for answers. Months turned into years and years into decades.  She wrote repeatedly to her Congressman for answers and the last response in 2005, from the Vice-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, stated Billie was still listed as “missing in action according to the National Archives,” although their records actually reflect “KIA.”

In the repeated absence of answers denied for decades, Billie’s cousin, Alton Harvey, felt closure was owed Peggy at long last and requested Billie’s service records.  In those would be revealed the long awaited history regarding the events and resting place of 1st Lt Billie Harris.  He was buried at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, in the WWII Cemetery and Memorial honoring American troops who died in Europe.  That, however, is not how they first discovered their long-awaited answers and not where the story ends.

WWII cemetery and memorial honoring American troops who died in Europe
Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France

After requesting Billie’s service records in 2005, they were told a woman in France had also placed a request.   Puzzled, Peggy and Alton contacted her and were informed, by a French citizen 61 years following the death of her husband, that 1st Lt. Harris was buried in Normandy.

Peggy was told the small Normandy town of Les Ventes had named their main road “Place Billie D. Harris” where townspeople have marched every year since 1944 to honor in part his sacrifice.  It had been witnessed on that fateful day of Billie’s last mission that he had veered his downed plane into the woods and avoided crashing into the town itself.  Out of great respect and gratitude, he was initially buried in  their cemetery with honor, prior to his later removal to the American cemetery in Normandy.

Les Ventes, Normandy
The town saved by 1st Lt Billie Harris USAF
when veering from the town and crashing in a forest
upon being shot down by Nazi forces, July 17, 1944

Steet sign marking the sacrifice by 1st Lt Billie D. Harris USAF
in saving the town of Les Ventes during WWII
July 17, 1944

Overwhelmed by this news, Peggy was invited to attend a commemoration in honor of her husband by the townspeople.  Welcomed with open arms and gratitude, Peggy finally received details forever sought and needed, and the opportunity to at long last view her husband’s grave.

Peggy S. Harris, a World War II widow,
visits the grave of her husband, 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris for the first time in 2005
after more than 60 years in her attempt to discover his whereabouts
Normandy American Cemetery in France
(Courtesy photo)

1st Lt Billie D. Harris USAF
American Cemetery and Memorial
Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France

Villagers march along the Place Billie D. Harris 3 times a year, in part for commemoration for Billie’s sacrifice, and still place flowers on his grave to this day.  The admiration for her husband is now extended to Peggy and she makes an annual pilgrimage, even visiting the forest of her husband’s crash with the sole remaining witness of that day.

——————————————–

Peggy and Billie’s love story began in 1942.  Peggy Harris, a native of Vernon, Texas, was working as an electrical instrument mechanic at Altus Air Force Base.   She loved poetry and the opera and would initially hear from 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris, a native of Altus, Oklahoma, via letters sent through his father (her boss and apparent matchmaker).  Although she tried to discourage Billie, their letter campaign commenced and continued until  finally meeting at a hanger at Altus AFB,  they quickly became inseparable.

Although their life together was brief, Peggy would remain forever devoted to her husband and a life-long widow.  “Billie was married to me all of his life, and I choose to be married to him for all of mine.”

WWII cemetery and memorial honoring American troops who died in Europe
Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France

Since learning of her husband’s burial at Normandy, Peggy sends flowers to adorn his grave ten times a year which includes anniversaries, his birthday, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Christmas, among others.  The staff at the American Cemetery believe she is the last surviving WWII widow visiting her husband’s grave, which has been a comfort denied her for a lifetime.

 

——————————–

With Deep Respect and Gratitude

For Your Service and Sacrifice

MEMORIAL DAY
2019

——————————–

 

Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
The National Mall, Washington, D.C.

 

About Karen Evans

Advocate For Honoring Military Service
This entry was posted in American History, Veterans and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Widow’s Journey to a Husband’s Valor

  1. GP Cox says:


    “Lord Give Me Strength”

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