The Truth About a French Village and One WWII Vet
Peggy and Billy met and fell in love on an army base during World War II. Billy was deployed to fight, but stopped keeping in touch shortly after. She never knew what came of him, but was determined to find out what came of him.
Neither Joy Nor Sorrow
It’s now been 67 years since the end of World War II. And every year “D Day” is remembered and celebrated around the world as a happy day to be thankful for. But for one woman it is neither a day of joy or a day of sadness.
Love In Dangerous Times
In those times and especially in a time of War, every day was precious and the young couple wasted no time. Billy in a modest but romantic gesture got down on one knee and proposed to Peggy on her lunch break in front of a crowd of her fellow mechanics, airmen and officers who cheered and whistled and when she said “yes, of course!” Their two families were overjoyed at the union and they were soon married. The lovely young newlyweds did not know then that they were destined to remain “newlyweds” until the end of time, because Billy had just completed his fighter pilot’s training he had risen to the new rank of second lieutenant and was to be sent off to go and fight against the Nazis.
Like Millions of Women
Only 6 short weeks after their marriage, Billy received orders that he was being deployed to fight in Europe. On July 17, 1944, Lt. Billy left for a German-occupied France, and he took every opportunity to write a letter to his wife that he had left behind. “My darling Peggy,” he began each letter. Peggy anxiously and with a heavy heart checked the mail every morning. The letters became further and further apart. Until finally, there were no more letters. She originally believed that her husband had been killed in action, like millions of other women widowed by the awful war.
After the correspondence with her husband went silent, Peggy tried again to get any shred information out of the authorities. She got word from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force which was located in France, and they claimed that Billy was back in the United States. But then she was told by the military that he was missing in action. But it wasn’t long until the office apologised for the error and reported that he had been killed in action. But shortly after that they changed their minds again and told her he was not confirmed dead, his whereabouts were unknown.
By then poor Peggy had suffered an emotional rollercoaster with each piece of conflicting information. There seemed to be so much confusion on the matter, Peggy decided to write a letter to her congressman to ask for someone to look into the matter. The least she deserved was a final answer, and all she was getting from the military was confusion and mishandled reports. By then the war had ended and Peggy was was waiting with a heavy heart to hear from her beloved. In a ditch effort she went to the International Red Cross to see if Billy’s name had turned up on a casualty or Prisoner of War lists.
The Red Cross proved totally unhelpful, even flat out refusing to launch an investigation to Billy. In the end it was no congressman nor the Red Cross that was able to help, but Peggy enlisted the help of Billy’s cousin Alton. Alton went to the National Archives to dig for information, assuming it might take months of detective investigation to find any records. However, he was able to get the info he wanted just minutes after walking into the office!
The Sad Truth
There it was. A black and white record stating that Billy was killed in action. Alton wondered why the both the Red Cross and the congressman were unable to find this easy-to-locate file. They would later find out that out the congressman had never even looked into the case. At that time there were not many details of his death. His squadron was tasked to escort bombers on their way to bomb towns and villages in Nazi-Occupied France. It was on one such mission that his plane came under enemy fire.
The Worst Part
His plane was shot down, crashing near some villages in the north of France. Billy was a brave and distinguished pilot, earning two Air Medals, 11 oak leaf clusters, and a Distinguished Flying Cross. This may have given his grieving wife some pride and comfort, but there was something that was breaking her heart. For obvious reasons, the body was never recovered. Peggy was devastated not only be the loss of her husband, but by the fact that she would not be able to give him a proper burial or even have a grave to lay flowers on.
The Pilot’s True Fate
And it was like this, with very few details of his death, did Peggy begin to put her life back together. It would be 68 years before she would find out the circumstances of her husband’s disappearance, and she might never have found out the truth if it weren’t for her niece, Charli. In fact, it was quite by dumb luck that they ever found out at all. Charli, like many high schoolers was given an assignment to research her roots in order to discover her heritage and create a family tree. She took the project very seriously.
Family Tree Reveals Lost Answers
She was eager for the opportunity to learn more about her grandparents and great-grandparents, and especially about her war-hero Uncle Billy who she had heard about countless times from her great-aunt Peg. Times had changed in the nearly 70 years that had passed since Billy’s disappearance. Through research on the internet Charli discovered something incredible, that left her both shocked if not a little bit perplexed. She kept looking and found several pieces of documented evidence before she picked up the phone to dial Peggy and share what she’d discovered.
Waited All Her Life
Peggy went on to live a full life and have a career, but she never remarried or fell in love again. “I’ll always consider myself married to Billy,” she shares with a fond smile. She is happy with her choice to remain unmarried and honor the memory of her first and only love. “We weren’t together long,” she says, “but anyone who has been in love knows that it’s not a matter of how long you’ve been together, but it’s only about how strong the connection is. Ours was as strong as the sun itself.” People used to ask her how long she was going to wait for him, she always had the same answer.
Love Lives On
“I would always answer the same to people who asked how long I was going to wait… The answer is all my life,” Peggy says with a sly smile. And to everyone’s surprise, including her own, it would turn out in the end that her dedication to love was not in vain. Charli had been in touch with Peggy to ask questions to help her research for her family tree, so it wasn’t a big surprise when Peggy got another call from her. She just assumed she’d called to ask for more dates and birth records. But when she asked what was up, Charli answered, “Aunt Peg I found something very strange about Billy”
The Power of Technology
In her research she had found the regular information you might expect about Billy, that he was in the 354th fighter squadron, during the war he’d posted to a British Royal Air Force base in England, and he was a P-51 Mustang pilot, and that his plane was shot down in the north of France. But something strange kept happening in her searches. Each time she searched his name she kept getting hits on sites related to a particular village in northern France. The place was called Les Ventes, France, which is about 80 miles outside of Paris.
The Mysterious Connection
At first she thought it must be a coincidence, but the name of the village kept popping up in connection to her great-uncle’s name, so finally she clicked on one the sites out of idle curiosity. But could the connection just be a coincidence? If the connection was real it would seem that Peggy was not the only one who still remembered and thought about her husband even 68 years after his death.
But there was too much evidence for it to be a coincidence, this little town in France knew exactly who her husband was, that was clear now. For almost 70 years, Peggy had no idea what happened to her husband, but now she had the chance to get some answers. And though the internet is a powerful tool, and though that Charli was able to discover the connection, there were limits to what she could find online. There were some big unanswered questions and it seemed the only way to find out would be to talk to the townsfolk in person.
A Wild Goose Chase To Europe
Sometimes if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself, and Peggy’s mind was made up. She must fly to France! However it is no small ordeal for a woman of almost 90 years old to pack a suitcase and get on a plane on a whim. She phoned her relatives and told them her plans. Charli’s mother was doubtful at best. The way she saw it, it sounded crazy. Her 15-year-old daughter and her very, very old auntie had teamed up and were proposing they embark on a wild goose chase to Europe, all based on something they read on the internet.
But Charli and Peggy didn’t give up, laying out the evidence they’d found until even Charli’s mother began to wonder if maybe they were on to something. She discussed with the other family members and they arrived at a decision. She called a family meeting to tell Peggy what they’d decided about the trip to Europe. She told her that she must not argue, as the family decision was final. Peggy’s eyes welled up with tears and she began to lose composure when they told her because she knew she could not do it without their assistance.
The Family Decision
They had decided that there was enough evidence that it was worthwhile to fly to France and investigate. Charli was going to have the most impressive family-tree presentation of the whole school, and Peggy was going to get some closure, though then she did not know the gravity of the closure she would find. So they bought tickets and were on their way to Europe, not knowing what was held in store. They were on their way to the village of Les Ventes. Upon arriving to the quaint little town, they weren’t really sure where to begin, so they went to the town visitor center to ask some questions.
The Plot Thickens
Along the way Peggy saw something that made her wide-eyed and speechless. What she saw was a street sign. But it wasn’t the sign that caught her eye but the name of the street. The town had a street named after her husband, complete with the title “American Aviator.” Now there was no doubt, her husband was connected to this town, and she was going to find answers. At the visitor center, the employee not only knew exactly who Billy was, but he had some surprising information as well. “Wait here, there is someone who will want to talk to you.”
And made them wait nervously in while he nearly ran out the door. Some 10 minutes went by and then 15. Then Peggy began to wonder if the man would come back at all. But a few minutes later he finally did, along with a woman. He introduced her as Valerie, Councilwoman of Les Ventes. Valerie shook Peggy’s hand and said it was an honor to meet her. Peggy was a little bewildered and Valerie said that she knew all about her husband. Peggy was invited to tea at the councilwoman’s house.
What Happened To Billy
Valerie said she would explain everything to Peggy about what happened to her husband and how he got to be famous in their town. She showed Peggy a trove of documents relating to Billy. There was a very good reason that Billy had become a household hero to the village. The village even has a commemorative march to honor Billie and their other fallen comrades who took up the fight against the Nazis three times every year. Valerie went on to tell the story.
The story took them back to 1944. Billy’s plane was hit by Nazi anti-aircraft fire, and according to eyewitnesses, they watched the flaming plane falling out of the sky. But that wasn’t the most shocking detail of the story. The real surprise is that Billy actually had a chance to try to save himself and abandon his plane. Eyewitnesses could clearly see the young pilot as he was crashing down, and it seemed he was aiming straight at the town’s main square, which was his best chance of survival.
Crash-landing in the square might have saved his life, but it was also full of people. It would have been a great tragedy and may have killed countless townspeople. But just as people were screaming and running for cover, they saw Billy purposely veer off course to steer his falling plane away from the village and into uninhabited woods.
The Mix Up
Instead of having his plane crash and kill innocents while he lived, Billie aimed the plane for the woods, giving up any hope of his own survival. After the plane came crashing down, French resistance fighters approached the site and were lucky enough to reach it before the Germans. They discovered the crash site and they also found the pilot, Billy, was dead. They saw his name on his jacket and because his jacket was ripped, they saw his name and just assumed it was a French Canadian name, thus assuming the pilot was Canadian and not American.
He Was A Hero
Because they thought he was Canadian, they didn’t report it to the right people and so Americans never really knew what became of Billy, and that is what resulted in all the misinformation about his whereabouts. The fighters took his codebook and a few other trinkets from the plane back to the town. The villagers of Les Ventes were so thankful that they unofficially dubbed him one of their own because he gave his life to save the village.
The Most Meaningful Gift
Everyone in the town knows who Billy the Pilot is, and they know his heroic story. That’s when Valarie paused and said that she had a gift for Peggy. Peggy did not know what to expect, but this would possibly be the most meaningful part of her entire trip. When her husband’s body was found in the wreckage they also pulled off of him his army dog tag along with a four-leaf clover encased in glass. They also found something else which was more meaningful than all the rest. Valerie placed a wooden box on the table and told Peggy to open it.
Sending Flowers For All The Years
Inside the box were Billy’s precious belongings, including the engraved wedding ring she gave Billie on their wedding day. She was also told that after the crash Billy was buried in town’s cemetery and later on was moved to a place of honor at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Today the townspeople make sure it is one of the most decorated graves on the site. Now that Peggy knows where her husband’s grave is, she does what she longed to do for so many years, she sends flowers to the grave. She sends them at every available opportunity to “make up for lost time,” including his birthday, Valentines Day, Memorial Day, their wedding anniversary, Christmas, and many other days of the year.