For those fortunate enough to experience true love, knowing that your memory will live on long after you’ve passed is a comfort.
Like many Army widows, Peggy Harris of Vernon, Texas, never stopped loving her husband, Billie D. Harris, even after he went to war and never came back. Peggy and Billie had been married for just six weeks when Billie was deployed. He was a First Lieutenant fighter pilot, and he’d been called to help allied forces wrestle control from the Nazis in Normandy, France.
Billie took to the skies on July 17, 1944. While flying over Nazi-occupied northern France, his plane was shot down, and he was never heard from again.
Peggy never received official word of Billie’s death, though… he simply disappeared. The reports from United States forces were conflicting and confusing, at best. She was told that he’d died, that he was alive and would be coming home soon, and that he was missing in action.
Since Peggy never knew what happened to him, she decided to remain faithful to him forever. She never remarried, and she never stopped asking questions about what had happened to her husband. “Billy has been married to me all his life,” she said simply, “and I choose to be married to him all of my life.”
Determined to find out where he was buried, Peggy wrote to her congressman repeatedly over the next several decades. In 2005, she received a letter from Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas, stating that Billie was still listed as “Missing In Action” in the National Registry.
Unsatisfied with this answer, Billy’s cousin, Alton Harvey, started digging. “We didn’t think it was right that he just went off to war and didn’t come back, end of story,” Alton said. The family needed closure. Alton decided to request Billie’s military records, and what the records showed shocked them all.
Congressman Thornberry had clearly never checked the records, as he had claimed to do because Billie was listed plainly in the National Archives. The military had listed him as KIA, “killed in action.” Further, they’d even listed the location of his grave in the American cemetery in Normandy, France.
Once Peggy discovered the location of Billie’s grave, she began to visit him there whenever possible. The cemetery groundskeepers even say that Peggy is the only remaining widow to visit a spouse’s grave. Not only that but about 10 times a year she sends flowers to adorn the grave as a way of celebrating all of those missed special occasions in their lives.
But the story doesn’t end there.
After Peggy discovered the exact location where Billie’s plane had gone down, she visited the small village of Les Ventes, France, and made a shocking discovery.
The main street of the village is named after Billie!
Not only that, but three times a year, the villagers commemorate the liberation of France from the Nazis, paying special tribute to the young fighter pilot whose sacrifice salvaged their village from certain disaster.
The story goes that after Billie’s plane was shot, he managed to maneuver the aircraft so that it would not crash into the village. His heroics saved countless lives that day, and the people of Les Ventes have never forgotten his selfless act of bravery.
The villagers buried Billie in their own local cemetery, with flowers heaped on his casket, but eventually, he was moved to the American cemetery in Normandy. Nevertheless, they continue to pay their respects by sending flowers to his grave several times a year.
Now, over 60 years later, Peggy visits the village where her husband took his final breath, and the people of Les Ventes extend her the same honor they would Billie, had he lived. Ninety-one-year-old Guy Seville is the only living witness of the incident, but he remembers being with him as the war hero lay dying. “I like to think he was conscious enough to know that a friend stood by him,” Peggy said tearfully.
Billie’s story reminds us that love is undying, and some sacrifices are so great, they can never be forgotten. Peggy has never forgotten Billie, and neither have the people of Les Ventes, France.
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