Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Billy Harris

The story of our singing in the little French town of Les Ventes (lay-vant) is intriguing. American pilot, Billy Harris, married Peggy in early June 1944. Six weeks later, flying combat missions from England, he was shot down near this town. Had he chosen to attempt to save his life, he would have bailed out of his P-51 Mustang. Had he done so the plane would have crashed into the village. Instead, sparing the town and perhaps many lives, he wrestled his crippled plane away from the center of town and died in the crash. The people of Les Ventes retrieved Billy's body from the crash site and buried him in their village. Years later this American hero was discovered by our government. His body was removed and reinterred in the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. No one apparently sought to notify next of kin. Peggy remained single living in Texas with their son. She always believed Billy would come back to her. In 2006 their son searched through government records under the Freedom of Information Act and discovered his dad was buried at Omaha Beach. When Peggy learned of the respect and honor the folks of Les Ventes had shown to her husband, she decided to go and visit them. The townspeople fell in love with her, and she with them. She has made an annual pilgrimage ever since. Through a contact in the Harmonizer's we were invited to sing for her and the folks there as an adjunct to our 70th Anniversary performance for the Normandy invasion. We rolled into town in our four buses to receive what could only be described as a hero's welcome. It was humbling, to say the least. We're just singers. The entire town was seated and waiting for us in the town square. And 92 year old Peggy Harris was the first to greet us as we disembarked. She is a precious lady. I took a moment to greet her and give her one of my personal military challenge coins. After warming up for a few minutes, we did our three-song performance, which included, Stars and Stripes, Glenn Miller Medley, and Bring Him Home. Our encore was I'll Walk with God. There was not a dry eye to be found. When we sang our last song we received a standing ovation. By far, this was the most significant moment for all of us in the Harmonizers during the entire week of singing eight performances. At the end, Peggy stood up and approached our director, Joe, to thank him. Then she walked over to the first guy in the first row and began shaking hands, fully intending to greet all 98 Harmonizers. After a few guys Joe wisely suggested she sit back down and allow the Harmonizers to come to her individually. In the midst of this the townspeople mixed with us thanking us for coming to sing for them. One of the ladies had made a cake for Peggy, who in turn gave it to the Harmonizers. After getting to our hotel that evening it was cut into small pieces so everyone could have a bite. Once back on the bus a young boy from town jumped on his bike and led our procession of four buses back out of town. 

After we sang I turned to one of the Harmonizers and said, "Look at the difference one man, Billy Harris, has made in so many lives." His selfless act saved many lives in this sleepy little French farming village. And it has spanned 70 years, to include the men of the Alexandria Harmonizers and family members who came on this remarkably memorable trip. 

What an experience! And what an honor!

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