Seven Decades After His Disappearance, Wife Discovers The Truth
It’s something most of us spend our entire lives looking for. There are the lucky ones, who find it earlier in life. Others find it as well, but much later down the road. And then there are those who constantly search, but never end up discovering it … That one thing is true, undying, and unconditional love. With so much news regarding failed marriages and relationships plaguing our timelines, we think it's time to take a look back at one of the most memorable and heartwarming stories about love; a tale that’ll leave even the most heartless feeling touched and inspired! Here, we’ll talk about Peggy - a wife that discovered the truth about her husband’s disappearance, seven decades later.
Gone Without a Trace
There was just something about Billie that Peggy couldn’t give up. Maybe everything was different back then, or maybe it was because Peggy had such strong feelings for Billie. But as soon as Billie disappeared after only six weeks of marriage, she knew that something had gone terribly wrong.
Not Losing Hope
Peggy was prepared for just about anything, as soon as the search for her husband began. For many years, Peggy contacted people from all over, and gathered every bit of tiny information she found, trying to connect the dots. Unfortunately, all of her attempts had failed. But this didn’t stop the strong-minded woman.
Despite all the uncertainty, Billie and Peggy’s relationship goes to show that true love really does conquer everything. Although she was suffering a great amount, the one thing she would never do is give up on her one true love. This love story became a story of inspiration for many. It teaches you that despite all the obstacles life throws your way, keeping faith in your heart, and believing that everything will work out, is the most important thing you can do.
An Unconventional Meeting
Peggy Seale, born in Vernon, Texas in the 1920s, had just turned 18 as soon as she started working at the Altus Oklahoma Air Force Base, as an electrical instrument mechanic. Soon after, Peggy and Billie met for the very first time through his father, who worked as an assistant supervisor at the same base. Billie’s father was totally convinced that Peggy and his son would instantly hit it off - and he wasn’t wrong! Peggy was beautiful, smart, and kind - but most importantly, there was something about her that was different from the rest.
Not Like the Others
One thing that obviously separated Peggy from the rest, is that she was the only female mechanic on the Altus Oklahoma Air Force Base. During that time, it wasn’t common for women to draft in the army - especially to work alone in a male-dominated field. However, Peggy always followed her heart and stuck to her gut. It didn’t matter to her whether she received the support of others. She knew what she wanted, who she was, and what mattered. And that was staying true to herself.
An Instant Connection
Upon meeting each other, Billie instantly fell in love with Peggy’s quirkiness and how set in her mind she was. Their connection was undeniable. While other girls were busy with their beauty routines and landing a wealthy husband, Peggy was busy solving complicated mechanical problems. She dedicated all her time to helping her country.
Old Fashioned Courting
Although their connection was instant, this wasn’t necessarily “love at first sight,” since they didn’t meet the first time they were introduced. In fact, the first time Billie and Peggy exchanged words was through letters. Considered a rarity now, this was a common way for couples to get to know each other back in the day.
It Wasn’t Really ‘Proper’
The way Peggy told the story: “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.” Clearly, Peggy wasn’t the type of woman to act disgracefully.
As soon as Billie heard about Peggy through his father, he took matters into his own hands: “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.”
A Blossoming Friendship
Distance was a problem for Billie and Peggy since he lived out in San Antonio, which was located pretty far from Peggy’s base. Which is why the two had no choice but to “meet” through the mail. Soon after, both Billie and Peggy started looking forward to these letters from each other. With every day, their friendship blossomed, the bond between them grew stronger with each written letter. Of course, after some time, the nature of the letters became more flirtatious.
Things started to move quickly soon after. Once they got to know each other through these personal levels, Billie decided that it was time to take the next step in their relationship. He proposed to Peggy, to which she quickly responded with a “yes”! On a beautiful fall day, September 22, 1943, Peggy and Billie celebrated their union as a married couple in Florida. Sadly, the two lovebirds had no idea what was in store for them.
Truthfully, things were rough for Billie and Peggy at the beginning; the couple was dirt poor. Peggy had to give Billie her Vernon High School class ring instead of a custom wedding ring since she just couldn’t afford to buy one. Times were definitely rough, and the future was unknown - but for them, none of it mattered. As long as they could be together as husband and wife, that’s all that mattered.
Billie and Peggy were soon hit with distressing news. For Billie, things were looking up - he married the love of his life, and he completed his U.S. Army AirCorps pilot training at Brooks Field, San Antonio. This professional success left him feeling ecstatic. He received a new, superior rank of a second lieutenant - along with a letter saying that it was time for him to serve his country in the war.
Nowhere To Go
This was one situation they just couldn’t get out of. As heartbreaking as it is, both of them took an oath to protect their nation. Even if that meant putting their lives out on the line, trumping the promise they made to each other. They didn’t spend as much time with each other as they hoped, and thinking about having children wasn’t an option anymore.
Peggy had to swallow her tears and pain, as she watched her husband silently gather his things. At that moment, she couldn’t help but think about how unfair life was. With so little time spent with each other, Billie had no choice but to leave and serve his duty.
Women Had No Choice
World War II was in full throttle - so, even though it hurt them, it didn’t necessarily come as a shock to Billy. He knew his time would come, as Americans were being drafted left and right. Peggy explained how she handled the situation: “His group was all taken to Tallahassee, and the wives were taken there to a huge hotel.” More instructions were given to the women, as Peggy recalled: “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.”
It was required that the wives not tell anybody about their husbands being sent overseas to fight in the war, until they received confirmation that they arrived safely. Unfortunately, Peggy had no idea that the announcement she received about her husband’s arrival in Europe, would be the last thing she heard of him. The reason behind the lack of information? It was simply due to disorganization, and the bureaucratic mess that was the U.S. Army.
The military, in reality, had no idea where Peggy’s husband was. The new about him arriving safely to Europe was far from the truth. After a series of mistakes made by authorities, Peggy knew she needed to take matters into her own hands if she wants to see ever see her husband again.
Peggy, unsurprisingly, went through hell and back: “A telegram came – 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, handwritten letters, dated after that. Later, they came up with ‘missing in action: July 17’.”
Completely In the Dark
Peggy grasped on to whatever information she could find, trying to connect the dots and whilst receiving little reinforcement from others: “I was told not to be concerned, that no doubt he was being ‘processed'. Billie’s parents and I chose to believe that he was back in the United States. 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.”
Calling On The Red Cross
Although they put in absolutely all their energy, power, and efforts, Peggy and Billie’s parents eventually had to come to terms that they would never see Billie again. Despite the agonizing truth, Peggy was still determined to find out what had happened to her husband. That’s when she made the brave decision to contact the International Red Cross.
New Info Surfaces
Peggy was feeling hopeful again, as she believed she finally found an organization that would help her find the truth about Billie. Even though the Red Cross refused to start an official search for Peggy’s husband, they did help tremendously by revealing small, but vital bits of information and details regarding Billie’s fate. New data had suddenly surfaced, and for one moment, it looked like things were finally going to be cleared up.
However, there was no reason to celebrate. The information they had gathered was contradictory. One report claimed that Billie was missing, whilst another said he was found dead. For years, the searches dragged on - but Peggy was relentless when it came to finding out the truth. Eventually, her lifelong search paid off.
Right Under Her Nose
Peggy searched far and wide for decades, not knowing that the truth was right under her nose. Billie’s own flesh and blood, cousin Alton Harvey, would have the answers she was looking for. Alton, just like Peggy, was determined to find out what had happened to his cousin. He explained that he “Didn’t feel it was right that he just went off to war and didn’t come back – end of story.” He continued, “You need to know what happened to him.” At this point, Alton started requesting Billie’s military records. You wouldn’t believe it, but the next step finally led the two to find out what had happened to Billie Harris.
A Shocking Twist
After browsing around the Department of the Army’s hidden files, Harvey finally discovered his cousins’ fate. During the process, Alton found out that he wasn’t the only one who was looking for his cousin. Another individual, a foreign French woman Harvey knew nothing about, was fishing around for info as well.
The Answer’s Right There
The same French woman had requested the exact same files Alton looked through, but with one big difference; the woman had asked for it half a year before Harvey started his search. Now, more than ever, Harvey was seriously desperate to find out what had happened. Finally, decades later, the truth was right in front of him.
According to the files, Lieutenant Billie Harris was, as a matter of fact, posted in the United Kingdom. While he was on duty, Harris was required to fly a P-51 Mustang across the English Channel daily. His outstanding work ethic, teamwork, and professional skills lead to Harris being awarded the Distinguished Flying Across award, including two other awards. Evidently, Billie was a soldier of many talents - but that’s not where it ends.
After completing almost 100 missions, Harris was allowed to return home as of July 1944. Of course, Billie was over the moon about seeing the love of his life once again, writing her a letter filled with excitement and joy, expressing how much he truly missed her. Alas, fate had different plans for the young troop. Instead of boarding the ship he was assigned to, Billie was informed that his trip has to be put on pause.
Until Next Time
Because there were too many wounded troops that had to be sent home, there was no room left for Billie, leaving hi, with no other choice but to wait for the next ship - which was weeks away. With nothing left to do until the next cruise home, Billie decided to continue his work for the army. The last flying mission for Harris also ended up being the last moment he was alive. Sadly, his plane was shot down while he was flying over northern France. Spiraling from above, Billie had to think fast - and did the unthinkable.
The Decision That Changed His Life
Billie’s plane had been hit and he needed to act fast. Thanks to years of training, Harris understood exactly what had to be done. A choice had to be made - flee the plane by ejecting from his seat and saving his life, or stay in the aircraft, diverting it from the French townspeople below, plunging to his death? For any person, this would be an impossible decision to make - but not for Billie.
Billie made the choice to crash his plane in a nearby forest, taking his life away, and saving the townspeople below. It was later revealed that the French woman who was fishing through Harris’ files, was from the same town Billie had saved. The woman’s name was Valerie Quesnal, who was searching for more information during the 60th anniversary of the liberation of that same, small town.
They Had No Idea Who He Was
With no idea of who he was, the town of Les Ventes wanted to honor his memory, as they have already been doing so ever since that fateful day. Because they had no information about their hero, they thought the pilot was Canadian. They buried Harris in their local cemetery, spoke of him constantly, but with no clue about who he truly was.
Will Never Be Forgotten
As soon as Peggy found out about Billie’s whereabouts, she acted fast and shipped him over in order for them to be closer. His remains were transferred to a grave in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. His selfless, courageous, and extraordinary act saved many lives, which is why the French town of Les Ventes still speaks of him admiringly to this day. According to CBS News, it’s “the most decorated grave in all of Normandy”
Ever since learning about Billie’s death, Peggy makes an annual pilgrimage to the nearby woods. She would visit the wood with the help of Guy Surleau, the only living witness who speaks highly of Peggy’s husband. Even though Guy believes he could have done something more, Peggy, sobbing, responds with: “I like to think that he was still conscious enough to know that a friend stood by him. And that this man is that friend.”
If it wasn’t for Alton finding Billie’s military records, Peggy probably wouldn’t have gotten the closure she was searching for. Thanks to him, Peggy was finally able to find out the truth about what happened to her husband, and how he became a national hero. Although their marriage lasted a short six weeks, those seven decades of searching meant the most to Peggy. She never moved or remarried after what had happened, and still visits her husband every single day: “When people speak of closure, they are people who have never experienced anything like this,” she explained in an interview.
This is a tale of true, undying love and devotion that sees no boundaries. Despite his disappearance, Peggy never stopped loving Billie. It was her love for him that eventually uncovered the truth. And this, folks, is an example of a real love story that we can all take something away from.
Sources: YouTube / CBS News