Peggy and Bill Harris were married for only six weeks when Bill was deployed to fight in World War II.
Billie Harris was deployed by the United States to fight alongside his fellow soldiers on D-Day. He left for Nazi-occupied Northern France on July 17, 1944. The war was raging and if the newsreels were to be believed, there was a chance that no matter how good a pilot he was, Billie might not be coming home.
Peggie never heard from her husband again. It took 68 years for Peggy to find out the fate of her husband.
The Fog Of War
Peggy lost all contact with her beloved husband. Her days and nights were spent pacing the house, worrying if he was a prisoner in some German camp. Even as news of the Allied victory reached US shores, weeks passed without any news from her husband. Neither the military nor Billie had reached out to her.
“Surely,” she thought to herself, “If Billie were dead they would send some sort of telegram.” But there was never a knock at the door. Peggy never received a telegram, nor a letter, nor any sort of news at all about her beloved husband. Even as the war came to an end, Peggy remained completely in the dark about whether or not Billie was dead or alive.
Some months after the end of the war, Peggy got a letter saying that Billie had been killed in action. It stated that Billie was buried at a cemetery in the US.
No sooner had she made peace with that terrible news that she received another letter. In this one, the US government told her that her husband was alive and well and coming home.
As she made peace with her brief scare another telegram came in the mail. The third correspondence said that Billie was indeed dead. It stated he was buried in a different cemetery than originally reported.
Once again, Peggy fell into despair. As she made plans to have his remains brought home, she was told that they couldn’t be sent. As it happened, those weren’t conclusively his remains either. Peggy was understandably very frustrated with the runaround. She also didn’t know if that meant Billie might still be alive somewhere.
Months turned into years and the question of Bill Harris’ final fate was never answered. His remains were never sent home.
Time wore on, and Peggy’s heart hardened to the idea that she would never again see her handsome husband. As the years stretched on, without any further word, it became clear that Billie wasn’t ever coming home.
Decades later Peggy still had no idea what had happened to the man she loved. The government had never given her a straight answer.
Finally, she decided to take it to the next level and wrote to her local congressman for word on Billie’s “official” status: whatever that meant.
Rep. Thornberry finally wrote back that Billie was officially marked as Missing in Action. It was an unsatisfactory answer for everyone involved, including Billie’s cousin, Alton Harvey. “I didn’t feel it was right that he just went off to war and didn’t come back, end of story,” Peggy decided there was more she could do.
So Cousin Alton decided to help Peggy get to the bottom of the whole thing. He started by requesting Billie’s military records and as it turned out, that was the best way to start. It was enough of a start that they hired a private investigator to finish the rest of the work.
The investigator didn’t help much, but ultimately it led them in the right direction. They soon discovered that Billie had indeed died in the war, he’d just never made it home.
They Found Him
It took 68 years but Peggy finally learned her husband’s fate. Billie Harris was actually buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France.
Sure enough, the grave of 1st lieutenant Billie Harris was found at Normandy, France in 2015. It seems that the answers to Billie’s mysterious fate had been there all along, sitting beneath a white, marble cross.
It’s a simple monument, like all of those in the graveyard, but in its simplicity, there is a resolution born of 68 years of searching.
The question remained though if the headstone of Lt. Harris had been so easy to find, then why had Peggy’s congressman told her as recently as 2005 that he was “missing in action”? Well, as it happens, Rep. Thornberry never even checked the National Archives. He had blatantly lied to Peggy in an effort to placate her.
Nevertheless, Peggy Harris harbors no grudge against the congressman. Knowing what had happened to her beloved husband after such a long period of uncertainty, was enough for her and Billie’s family.
“You have to learn to be forgiving,” says Peggy Harris, who is glad to just have an answer.
Rep. Thornberry’s office eventually issued an apology for “mishandling” of information relating to Harris’ case. Though he himself never actually spoke to the grieving war widow.
In the end, though, Peggy had bigger fish to fry. She had to go and visit her husband’s final resting place.
Since her first visit to the cemetery, Peggy has made it her promise to visit the gravestone every year for as long as she can.
Levantes, the town where Billie is buried even has a main road named after him. Locals have marched down “Place Billie D. Harris” three times a year for the past 60 years in part to commemorate his sacrifice during the war.
The admiration for her husband’s sacrifice and final flight extends to Peggy during her yearly pilgrimage.