Peggy Seale Harris waited over 60 years to find out what happened to her husband in WWII. But after more than 60 years, the mystery surrounding Lt. Billie Dowe Harris’ disappearance was finally solved and what she learned was truly remarkable.
Billie was an America fighter pilot and married Peggy six weeks before he went over to France to fight the Nazis. He fought to liberate France in the months leading up to D-Day. No one in his family knew what happened to him, until a few years ago, when his family learned that he crashed in the forest near Les Ventes, a small village in rural France. Remarkably, the townspeople have been honoring Billie’s sacrifice for their freedom every year since his plane was shot down.
Peggy discovered that French resistance fighters ran to his plane immediately after he crashed but could not recover his body initially because German troops closed in. They saw a patch on his arm that read “D. Harris”. When they returned later, the Germans had stripped his ID. They buried him with great care alongside other heroes that had lost their lives. Les Ventes inhabitants thought Billie D. Harris was Canadian because they assumed his name was D’Harris, thus Canadian, and because the German soldiers took objects that could clearly identify him as an American soldier.
Shortly after Billie’s death, Peggy was told by the military that her husband was missing in action. She searched for answers for a long time, but his whereabouts remained unknown until 2004. In that year, the 60 years commemoration of France’s liberation was happening and two French citizens, Valerie Quesnel and Mr. Huard, pieced together that the pilot they had assumed to be Canadian, was in fact an American soldier and sent this information to the United States. Around the same time Billie’s cousin, Alton Harvey, was making inquiries with the American military and soon after the puzzle came together and Peggy had finally found her late husband.
She began corresponding with Valerie Quesnel and learned through eye-witness accounts and records exactly what had happened to her beloved husband. She learned through a letter that the mayor in the village had kept Billie’s wedding ring safe for his family for many years. It had a “kitten” on it and had been Peggy’s high school ring – which she gave to Billie as a wedding ring because they didn’t have the money to buy him a ring, but sadly the ring disappeared. She also learned that every year, he was honored alongside the others who died fighting for freedom.
Peggy went to visit the town and was overwhelmed by the kindness of the people. She met a man who witnessed her husband’s plane crash and others who had been on hand during his burial, and even had photos of the occasion. She told the Pioneer Mustang Fighter Group, “I don’t want to say this has been closure, because I don’t like that word,” Harris said. “I guess the best way to describe it is ‘relief’ to finally know the entire story, to be able to bring it all together, and to know what really happened.”