She spent time as his wife for only 6 weeks but he was her love for her entire life. And only decades later did she find out what happened to him.
When it comes to true love, all of us crave it. We look for that one person who we see ourselves spending decades with, starting a family and enjoying the kind of intimacy and faith that comes with long-term relationships. However, not many of us get to experience it. But those who do are extremely lucky, just like Peggy Harris of Vernon, Texas. Sadly though, the man she married disappeared a short six weeks after the wedding and for nearly six decades, she had no idea what happened to him. It was only a few years back that she finally found out the truth of what happened to the love of her life, Billie Dowe Harris and it was a heartbreaking truth.
When Peggy was 18 years old, she had gotten a job that was not usually held by a woman, especially in those times — an electrical instrument mechanic at the Altus Oklahoma Air Force Base. At the time, she was working with her then-unknown husband's father who was an assistant supervisor at the Air Force base. Billie's father felt that Peggy and his son, who was also serving the country, would make a special couple and so he arranged for them to meet.
However, the way they met was in a true old-fashioned way. Instead of meeting face to face, the two exchanged letters. But Peggy was reluctant to write the first letter to a man she had never even met. She recalled talking to Billie’s father about his son, “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 service men," according to Trend Chaser. But 1st Lt. Billie was not shy at all. Making the first move, he courted her through letters and she reciprocated.
Peggy explained, “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.”
The moment the two of them met, they knew they were in love. Soon enough, when Billie proposed to Peggy, there was nothing more to say but "yes." On September 22, 1943, the two finally tied the knot. But little did they know that things were about to change, and not for the best. Though the two wanted to start a family, they were financially unable to and had to put that on hold. Things were supposed to look up when Billie got a promotion and was awarded the rank of second lieutenant. However, along with his promotion came the orders to be on duty during World War II.
Though the two wanted to spend their married life together, both of them, having served in the military, knew that they were also committed to their country. So while Peggy stayed back, she had to watch Billie pack his bags and leave overseas. Peggy explained in an interview for a website commemorating the 354th Fighter Group, “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."
The new wife never even thought that that would have been her final goodbye to her husband in 1944. Though she received news that he had arrived in France safely, it was radio silence after that. Trying to find out updates on his whereabouts from the military was the hardest task because they never really gave her a straight answer. She explained, “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.”
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into years. She had no idea those years would turn into decades before she found out what happened to the love of her life. With no help from the authorities, finally, 68 years after his disappearance, she finally had the truth in 2012 and she was heartbroken but proud as well.
According to CBS News, Billie's cousin, Alton Harvey "didn’t feel it was right that he just went off to war and didn’t come back – end of story." He managed to track down the cemetery that his cousin had been buried at after taking a look at his military records. According to the Inquistr, it was in a tiny town of Les Ventes, France that Billie was buried wherein the main road of the town is actually called “Place Billie D. Harris”. It turned out that the people there have been marching the road, three times a year for the past 60 years, to honor and commemorate the sacrifices of her late husband.
They revealed that Billie’s fighter plane was shot down while flying above Les Ventes and despite his mortal injuries and the plane’s damaged condition, he didn't want to land the plane in the town. After all, it would have decimated the place. So he was able to maintain control of the aircraft just long enough to avoid crashing into the village. This act of bravery was so heartfelt among the town that even after 60 years, Billie is a true hero to them.
Well, he's not a hero just to them but to his wife too. And though she spent a short time married to him, she knew she had made the right decision to be with him and not give up on trying to find out the truth. Now, she constantly makes pilgrimages to Les Ventes to honor her husband at his grave.
R.I.P Billie Harris.
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