“Billie was married to me all of his life, and I choose to be married to him all of my life.”
Peggy S. Harris, a native of Vernon, Texas, was working at Altus AFB as an electrical instrument mechanic in 1942 when she first heard from 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris, a native of Altus, Okla.
“I worked with my husband’s father at that time,” Peggy said. “He was writing letters to [Billie], telling him about me, and I refused to write to him first or give him or his father my address. So he wrote a letter to me and put it in an envelope to his father to give to me. That was my first acquaintance with him.”
After that, they wrote letters back and forth.
“I tried to discourage him,” Peggy said. “I wrote to him that I loved opera and listened on Saturday afternoons. I thought that would turn any man off, but he wasn’t and he wrote back. I wrote him that I memorized poetry and he wrote back that he memorized poetry as well and he thought that was really great.”
“So over and over, when I tried to put him off, he still came back and wrote,” she said.
Peggy and Billie finally met in person in a hangar at Altus AFB.
“When he came home for leave, I hid in the cockpit of an airplane so he wouldn’t find me,” she said. “Then all of a sudden, even though I was crouched down in the cock pit, the door opened and there he was. Evidently, he saw me squatting in the plane.”
Since then, they were inseparable, Peggy said.
Peggy was married to 1st Lt. Billie Harris for only six weeks before he deployed in World War II.
“He wrote me that the ship was needed for wounded and he would come home as soon as there was space available,” Peggy said.
1st Lt. Harris flew his last mission over Normandy, France July 17, 1944 after which he never returned.
For more than 60 years, Peggy has been on a journey to find answers to her husband’s whereabouts.
He was first reported as missing, and then reported as alive and coming home. But Peggy later received a letter saying he was killed and buried at a certain cemetery, then another letter that said he was buried in another cemetery, and then was told that those remains weren’t her husband’s after all.
“And then Alton (Billie’s cousin) reached out and decided to request Billie’s military records,” Peggy said. “They told Alton in September (2005) that it would take six months, and then they called him back and said ‘you’ll never believe this, but six months ago a woman from France asked for these files and we sent copies to her’.”
Peggy and Alton attained the woman’s name and contacted her.
They were then informed that 1st Lt. Harris was buried in Normandy.
“The woman said that the people in Normandy wanted to have a parade and ceremony and she invited us to come,” Peggy said. “She told us to set the date, and we set it for Easter of 2006.”
Peggy also discovered that a small town in Normandy called Les Ventes named the main road “Place Billie D. Harris” where members of the town have marched down every year for 60 years to honor his sacrifice. 1st Lt. Harris veered the plane he flew into the woods, avoiding crashing into the town.
Peggy said that the people of Normandy welcomed her to their home with open arms.
Since then Peggy sends flowers to adorn her husband’s grave ten times a year–for anniversaries, Easter, his birthday, and Valentine’s Day to name a few.
At an assembly to honor U.S. Veterans at Vernon High School Nov. 12, the Altus AFB Blue Knights Honor Guard performed a flag folding ceremony in commemoration of 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris. The flag was presented to Peggy by Col. Ted Detwiler, 97th Operations Group commander.
“Veteran’s Day means so much to me, and always will,” Peggy said. “We will always remember.”