Peggy Seale was born in the ’20s in Vernon, Texas. When she turned 18, she wanted to do something to help during the war, and she got a job at the Altus Oklahoma Air Force Base. There, she worked as an electrical instrument mechanic and was the only female mechanic on the base. She met the assistant supervisor in the propeller department, and he told her about his son Billie. He wanted the two to meet because he believed that they would really hit it off. Billie was based at Brooks Air Field, where he was training as an Army Air Corp flying cadet.
Peggy was shy, so she wasn’t sure about reaching out to a stranger. Since Billie lived so far away from Peggy, he wrote her a letter. Peggy responded, and the two started sending each other letters regularly. It wasn’t long before their friendly letters turned romantic. The two courted for months before Billie asked Peggy to marry her. She said yes, and the two were married on September 22, 1943. The couple didn’t have any money, so they didn’t have the money to buy wedding rings. Peggy gave Billie her Vernon High School class ring instead.
Called To War
After the wedding, Peggy and Billie planned to take a honeymoon during his two-week leave. Unfortunately, a ship carrying American pilots was destroyed in a torpedo attack, so Billy was called to war. He was now a fully trained second lieutenant, and he was needed. The couple had been married for just six weeks when the couple was forced to separate. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Billie was needed more than ever.
Leaving In Secrecy
When Billie’s group was called to war, the men and their wives were taken to a hotel in Tallahassee. When it was time for the men to leave, the wives were told to go home. They were also told not to tell anyone that their husbands had been sent overseas until they arrived there safely. As difficult as it was, Peggy said goodbye.
Receiving a Telegram
Billie made it to Europe safely, but she was devastated when she received a telegram claiming that her husband was missing in action. At this time, she was living in Colorado. She could no longer handle working on the airbase. She was working there one day while Billie was overseas, and she took out the instrument panel of a plane that someone was killed in. When she saw the dried blood on the panel, Peggy decided that she just couldn’t do it anymore. This was when she moved to Colorado.
After she received the first telegram about her husband, she received different information from the U.S. Supreme Headquarters in Allied France (SHEAF). The military release claimed that Billie Harris was on leave, and had returned to the United States. Peggy and Billie’s father hadn’t heard from him, but it gave Peggy hope. Sadly, it was false hope.
When Peggy tried to get answers, she was told that Billie was likely being processed. Peggy and Billie’s family assumed that he was in a United States hospital, possibly without his memory. Peggy heard stories like this before, and she was willing to believe anything if it meant that Billie was alive somewhere.
In March 1945, Peggy was desperate to find her husband. She began making inquiries with the International Red Cross. Unfortunately, they weren’t willing to open a full investigation. When new details emerged, the information often contradicted things that she already heard. One report said that Billie was missing in action; one said that he had been killed, then she would get another missing in action report again. Peggy refused to give up on her husband. Even as late as 2005, Peggy was getting information that Billie was missing in action. This is what she was told when she reached out to her congressman, Rep. Mac Thornberry.
Unfortunately, Rep. Thornberry didn’t conduct a basic search of the National Archives and later apologized for mishandling the case. When Billie’s cousin, Alton Harvey, requested files from the Department of the Army, a red flag was raised. Six months earlier, a Frenchwoman requested the same records. Everyone wondered why she did this.
Billie’s file stated that he was posted to southeast England, where he was assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron. He flew daily missions, and they led to him being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Air Medals with 11 oak leaf clusters. After completing hundreds of missions, he earned his ticket home in July 1944. He wrote to Peggy, giving her the good news. The ship he was assigned to was full to capacity to treat the wounded. Since Billie couldn’t go home just yet, he continued flying missions.
Sadly, he was shot down over the woods in Les Ventes, in northern France. He died in the crash, and the townspeople had been honoring his memory ever since. This was the hometown of the Frenchwoman who requested his files in 2004. She was looking for information on Billie to hold the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Les Ventes. He was even buried there, but the people believed that he was Canadian.
Finally, Peggy knew what happened to her husband. Peggy found out that Billie crashed his damaged plane away from the town to keep from injuring people. He could have ejected from the plane, but he didn’t so he could save the lives of so many others. The people of Las Ventes never forgot his sacrifice. A WWII widow found her husband’s Normandy resting place 60 years after he vanished, and Peggy was finally able to say goodbye to her one true love.