There in the midst of all hell, on July 17, 1944, a mere month and more following the invasion of Nazi-occupied France on D-Day in the summer of 1944, the largest air and sea invasion force ever launched, occurred an instantaneous act of uncommon grace and sacrifice by an American fighter pilot from Oklahoma, 22 year old 1Lt Billie D. Harris.
For Billie, it was his final act, one that for 67 years has never been forgotten by the townspeople of Les Ventes, France.
One man in that village personally witnessed the resolve Harris showed in those final few moments of his life, somehow maintaining enough control of his crippled plane so that it did not hurl into their village, but instead crashed in a nearby woods. Harris perished as a result of the crash.
And yet, it was all only very recently learned of by Peggy Harris, the young wife Lt. Billie Harris left behind. Until a relative was finally able to track down what had happened to Billie, Peggy, who now lives in Texas, was not even certain he had died, and she was obviously unaware that a few times during each and every year since then, the people of this little village in France, honored and celebrated the heroic sacrifice on their behalf by Billie Harris.
He had been buried there in a frequently festooned place of honor for many decades, until he was finally moved a few years ago to the American cemetery at Normandy. The villagers still bring flowers to his grave, and the main street in their little town is, of course, named Place Billie D. Harris.
Steve Hartman of CBS "On the Road" tells the amazing story in the following embedded clip (ht, Coalition of the Swilling, here.)