WWII Soldier, Billie Harris, Honored By French Town For 6 Decades While His Fate Remained Unknown To His Widow

06/13/2012 02:46 pm ET

Unbeknownst to his grieving widow, a fallen World War II soldier's sacrifice has been honored by a French town for more than 60 years, CBS News reports.

First Lieutenant Billie Harris was a fighter pilot who was shot down and killed over Nazi-occupied northern France in July 1944.

As he went down, Harris was able to maintain control of his plane and avoided the town below. He crashed in the nearby woods -- saving lives, even in death.

Harris was buried in the local cemetery and the townspeople covered his grave knee-deep with flowers.

"The citizens of the town snuck around when the Germans weren't looking and had a little funeral for him and buried him in their cemetery," Alton Harvey, a cousin of Billie Harris's wife, told Abilene Reporter-News.

Six decades later, the tiny town of Les Ventes in Normandy still remembers the American soldier's last sacrifice.

According to CBS News, the townspeople faithfully march down the main road -- significantly called Place Billie D. Harris -- three times a year in part to commemorate the fallen pilot.

"We don't forget," the mayor of Les Ventes said.

But incredibly, despite his heroism, his fate was unknown to his widow for years.

Peggy Harris, who married Billie Harris just six weeks before he was shipped off to war, said she was not given adequate answers as to his whereabouts for 60 years.

First, he was reported as missing and then, alive. She was subsequently told that he had died, before learning that the remains that had been found were not his.

In 2005, Harris wrote to her congressman, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas. He replied, saying that her husband was "still listed as 'missing in action.'"

Finally, her cousin Alton Harvey cracked the mystery when he requested Billie's military records.

"Strictly by accident, I found out he was buried in Normandy, France -- had been since 1948," Harvey told Abilene Reporter-News.

It was a moment of closure that Harris had been waiting for "all of [her] life."

Harvey and Harris visited Les Ventes in 2006. Harris, who never remarried, now tries to visit Normandy annually.

She said she's happy with how her late husband's memory has been honored.

"How can I not be grateful and hold these people very dear," she told CBS News.

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