In 1943, Billie and Peggy Harris were happily married. At that point, they thought they’d get to spend a lifetime together. But then, one day, he vanished. So, for the next 70 years, she searched for clues as to what happened. Now, 7 decades later, Peggy finally learned what happened to Billie, and it’s actually quite heartbreaking.
Peggy was years ahead of her time. After high school, she had gotten a job as an electrical mechanic at the Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma. It was there that she met Billie’s dad, who decided to match her with his son. Billie’s dad suggested that she send him a letter to Texas, where he was stationed. At first, things started out slow, but it became serious in less than no time. Eventually, Billie asked Peggy to marry him after they first met face to face.
It had only been a few weeks since they had seen each other, but that’s all it took and in 1943, Billie and Peggy got married. Since the two were broke, they used their high school class rings as wedding bands. But six weeks after they said their “I dos,” Billie graduated from the Brooks Air Force Base, earning the rank of second lieutenant. Unfortunately, this meant he was going to war. So, Peggy and Billie were about to get separated by the horrible events of World War II.
Billie went off to fight in the European Theatre against the Axis, and Peggy wasn’t sure if she’d see her husband again. But she prayed that Billie would return someday. Unfortunately, the news of the war had her very concerned. When Billie arrived in Europe, she wrote a letter to his wife to let her know she was okay and sent it. But while the letter put Peggy’s mind at ease, it was also the last letter she would ever get from Billie.
Peggy tried to keep her hopes up after the first and only letter. But days became weeks, which eventually became months, and she couldn’t stand the suspense. So, she reached out to everyone in the military who would listen, from the Navy to the Army, and the Air Force and the Supreme Allied Commanders. Ironically, it was the latter who had an answer for her. Much to her surprise, the commanders told her that Billie had already come back to the United States.
Peggy was puzzled by the commanders’ claim that Billie was back. She figured that if her husband had returned, he would have contacted her. So, she visited Billie’s parents, who didn’t know anything about Billie’s alleged return. When Peggy went back to the Supreme Allied Commanders, they explained to her that he was wounded and was being treated in a military hospital. That’s when Peggy went off to investigate and her world came crashing down on her.
Peggy searched everywhere for her husband, but eventually, one lead squashed any hope she had. It was a file that suggested that Billie was killed in the line of duty. But somehow, Peggy couldn’t accept it. And that’s when she discovered a different file that suggested her husband was, in fact, missing in action. But which report was the right one and why did they contradict each other? The only thing she knew for sure was that the military was lying to her about Billie.
Peggy explained that when she found Billie’s MIA report, “A telegram came,” and she opened it. “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, hand-written letters, dated after that. Later, they came up with ‘missing in action: July 17’.” This made Peggy question everything about the military’s report. So, she went in search of the truth.
The war had finally ended and Billie was still missing. Peggy worried that her husband might be a prisoner of war, so she turned to the International Red Cross for help. Unfortunately, they didn’t help Peggy in the least. In fact, they refused to investigate her husband’s disappearance altogether. According to Peggy, this was the horrible response they gave her: “We cannot afford to look into this because he will come home before we can get an answer.”
By 1945, Peggy was forced to accept that Billie was gone, but she still wanted to know what had happened to him. Jump several decades later to 2005, where Congressional Representative Mac Thornberry claimed that Billie was still MIA. Obviously, this made Peggy feel worse than she already did and Thornberry used social media to publicly apologize. But his statement wasn’t the worst thing Peggy was forced to face recently.
It had been 68 years before Billy was eventually found. It turns out that a woman discovered the grave belonging to a French-Canadian soldier in France, which actually belonged to Billie Harris. According to reports, Billie had been stationed in the UK as a fighter pilot. But during a run, his plane was shot down and he crashed. Although the news was anything but ideal, at least Peggy finally knew that he was gone, which gave this whole mystery some hope and possibly some closure.
After a year in the war, Billie had been given permission to come home in July 1944, and he’d earned it too. He had completed 100 missions for the Air Force, but fate prevented him from coming home to his wife. The ship he was supposed to board was loaded with wounded soldiers. So, Billie had to wait for the next ship days later. To kill some time, he was sent one more mission which, unfortunately, became the very last one he would ever go on.
While flying over the town of Les Ventes, Billie’s plane was hit by Nazi anti-artillery, causing his plane to come crashing down. But he had plenty of time to eject from the plane, and decided not to. Why you ask? If he had ejected, the plane would have crashed into Les Ventes itself, killing everyone there. So, instead, he stayed aboard and managed to guide the aircraft towards the woods, sacrificing his own life, while saving everyone else in town.
By the time the wreckage was discovered, everyone in Les Ventes assumed that the pilot belonged to the French-Canadian Air Force. After all, American pilots rarely flew over this area. So, the citizens of Les Ventes buried Billie’s remains in a cemetery and decorated his grave with letters and flowers to show gratitude for his sacrifice. Decades later, the French woman reached out to Peggy about Billie’s grave, and the 90-year-old woman couldn’t contain her emotions.
Peggy hopped on a flight to Les Ventes to finally reunite with her husband. That’s when she met the French woman, who told her all about Billie’s selfless sacrifice, which had saved her grandfather’s life. In fact, without Billie, the French woman wouldn’t be standing here. This brought Peggy a great deal of joy, but also plenty of sorrow when she visited Billie’s grave. After decades of not knowing, she finally learned that her husband had died a hero. But the news led to something even more incredible for loving Peggy.
When news of Billie’s heroic deed became news, the United States Air Force decided to honor the fallen hero. They invited Peggy to Vernon High School in Vernon, TX, her hometown, to attend a ceremony. That’s where they presented Peggy with a flag commemorating her husband’s death, and it brought her to tears. But although Peggy and Billie didn’t have a lifetime together, their brief moment was special. In fact, their love was so strong that even death couldn’t separate them. We only wish Billie was still alive to know how much Peggy misses him.