World War II devastated the planet. Not only did countless families around the globe lose loved ones, but the carnage was so vast and widespread that some never even learned the truth about what really happened to the people they cared about. Such was the case for a Texas woman named Peggy Seale.

In 1943, Peggy met 22-year-old Billie Harris in the small, charming town of Vernon, Texas. Their courtship was quick, and the two were married in no time at all. Sadly, just a few weeks after their big day, Billie was shipped off to Europe to fight in World War II. That was the last that Peggy would hear from him—until 70 years later, when someone told her something unbelievable…

In 1943, Peggy Seale and Billie Harris met under unusual circumstances: through the mail. At the time, she was working at Altus Air Force Base in Vernon, Texas, as an electrical mechanic.

There, she met Billie’s father, who mentioned his son was a training pilot in San Antonio at Brooks Air Force Base. Soon, at the behest of this would-be matchmaker, the two began penning letters to one another.

The couple’s love for each other was instantaneous, and shortly after they first met in person, they were married. Just as quickly as they fell in love, however, Billie was shipped off to Europe to fight in World War II. Just like that, he was gone…

Peggy and Billie had only been married for six short weeks when he received the call that his services were needed overseas. Though he’d need to put his marriage on the back burner, he was still excited to join in the fight.

Billie was shipped to southeast England, where he became a member of the newly formed 354th Fighter Group unit. His role was to protect bombers flying over Nazi-occupied Europe in the famed U.S. fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang.

Then, during the invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944—otherwise known as D-Day—Billie was involved in heated combat, providing necessary support to the ground troops fighting below. All told, he was well on his way to becoming a war hero…

Poor Peggy didn’t know much about what Billie was getting into, however. “He told me very little about what he was doing. There was a lot of censoring of the mail, but I knew he was flying missions,” Peggy recalled in an interview.

By July 1944, Billie had flown more than 60 missions, qualifying him to return home. Then, after he wrote a letter to Peggy informing her of his return, he received bad news: his spot on the ship back to America was taken by an injured soldier. As Peggy would soon learn, he’d missed his only chance…

Peggy was shocked when, later in July, a telegram arrived that said Billie was missing in action. She couldn’t—almost wouldn’t—believe what she was reading. It couldn’t be true.

“After I got over the shock, I went to the telegraph office and told them there had been a mistake,” Peggy recalled to reporters. Then, on July 17, 1944, a second telegram arrived confirming that Billie had gone missing.

Doubts crept back, however, after Peggy learned from the Supreme Headquarters in Allied France that their records showed Billie was on leave in the U.S. Since no one had heard from him, she had a difficult time believing them—so she asked the Red Cross for assistance.

“I was told not to be concerned, that no doubt he was being ‘processed,’ possibly at some military hospital,” Peggy remembered. “Billie’s parents and I chose to believe that he was back in the United States.” No one seemed to know anything of his whereabouts.

“Our thought was maybe he was out there somewhere and had lost his memory,” she explained. As the years passed, Peggy never learned of her husband’s whereabouts. Yet, she always held out hope. Little did she know what awaited her…

Nearly 70 years later, Peggy’s cousin, Alton Harvey, decided it was time he helped. He started by requesting Billie’s files from the Department of the Army, but with a small staff, they told him information would be difficult to locate. Still, Alton proceeded.

It wasn’t long before he heard back. As it turned out, an unknown French woman had mysteriously also asked for Billie’s records just a few months prior. All they could wonder was who the woman could’ve been…

Soon, they learned the mystery woman’s identity: Valerie Quesnel, hailing from Les Ventes, a small village in Normandy, France. That’s when they learned the shocking truth about what had happened to Billie all of those years ago…

In Les Ventes, a square had been named after the man that many people considered a selfless hero. Why did this small town hold this American in such high regard decades after the war ended?

As Peggy learned, Billie was dead—but he’d gone out as a hero. His plane was shot down in 1944, and it had fallen toward Les Ventes. In what the villagers described as a miraculous maneuver, he managed to avoid striking the town, saving many lives—albeit losing his own.

After learning the truth, Peggy was invited to Les Ventes by its residents. There, she met 91-year-old Guy Surleau, the last surviving person to witness Billie’s plane crashing. Although it took her more than six decades to learn what happened to her husband, Peggy was grateful to know the truth.

“I want to thank them for their tender care… I learned at last that caring hands took him from the wreckage,” Peggy wrote. Though bittersweet, it was a wonderful form of closure when Peggy finally visited the French village where Billie became a hero.

It’s heartbreaking that Peggy had to wait so long to find closure, but it looked like she made some incredible new friends—and it was all thanks to Billie’s amazing bravery!

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