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Billie D. Harris

355th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group

First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Forces

Entered the Service from:

Oklahoma

Died:

7/17/1944

Grave Location:

Plot D, Row 27, Grave 3

1stLt. Billie D. Harris enlisted in the military in 1942 and began flight training as an Army Air Corp flying cadet at Brooks Air Field in San Antonio, Texas.

1st Lt. Billie D. Harris with his wife, Peggy.

That same year, Harris began to correspond with Peggy Seale, an 18-year-old who was working for his father at Altus Army Airfield in Oklahoma. After corresponding with one another for a period of time, the two finally met in person and fell in love. Soon after, Harris proposed to Peggy and they married on September 22, 1943 in Florida where Harris had been sent to undergo advanced training. Six weeks later, Harris was deployed and assigned to the 355thFighter Squadron, 354thFighter Group and stationed in Boxted, England.

A P-47 of the 354th Fighter Group - similar to the one that Harris was flying when he was shot down by enemy fire.

During the spring of 1944, Harris flew several bomber support missions into Germany. After the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the attacks changed to ground targets with Harris flying multiple daily missions across the English Channel. By July, Harris had completed over 60 missions and had earned two Air Medals with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He had flown his required missions in order to rotate home, but had to stay in France because place on a returning troop ship was given to a wounded pilot.

On July 17, Harris was returning from a mission in a P-47 when his aircraft was shot down by enemy fire near the town of Les Ventes, about 90 miles southwest of Paris. A villager of Les Ventes witnessed Harris veer his aircraft into the woods to avoid crashing into the town. His aircraft landed in trees and was cushioned on impact. The French Resistance were the first to get to the aircraft and discovered that Harris was dead. They removed his handgun and codebooks and then left the area before the Germans arrived. The villagers assumed Harris’ name was Billie D'Harris, which sounded French-Canadian, and that ‘Billie’ was a Canadian name. Because of this assumption, the people of Les Ventes honored his grave with a Canadian flag until 2005.

After Harris’ death, his wife Peggy received mixed information about her husband’s whereabouts. She received various letters stating that Harris was reported missing, then alive and recovering in a military hospital in the U.S., and later that he was killed but that his remains were never recovered. In 2005, Peggy finally learned that her husband had died in the crash and that, unknown to her, the citizens of Les Ventes continue to remember her husband as a hero. The villagers still place flowers on his grave and march down the main road of Les Ventes-renamed “Place Billie D. Harris” in honor of the airman-every year to honor his sacrifice. Harris was 23 years old at the time of his death.

The street named in honor of Harris in Les Ventes, France.
Harris' wife, Peggie, visits the nearby woods of Les Ventes where her husband's plane went down. Here she talks with Guy Surleau, the only witness of the crash still living.

Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart

Distinguished Flying Cross
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Billie D. Harris is buried in Normandy American Cemetery Plot D, Row 27, Grave 3.