ROANOKE, JUNE 20 -- William Epperly has waited 41 years for this Father's Day gift: meeting his firstborn child for the first time.

"It's finally come true," Epperly, a 62-year-old Roanoke native, said of his impending meeting Tuesday with his British daughter, Sandra Lee Livesey, and his newfound grandson, Alan Livesey, 24.

It all began in 1945, when Epperly was stationed in northwest England with the Army Air Forces. He met and fell in love with Molly Sowerby, a British woman living in nearby Preston.

The couple married in May but had to separate four months later when Epperly shipped out with his outfit. Epperly made plans for his pregnant wife to follow him after the baby was born in December.

But she never came.

Pleading letters from William Epperly failed to change her mind. For years, he did not know why his wife chose not to join him in the United States. He said he later learned that she had met another man who persuaded her to stay in England.

Molly Epperly wrote to William Epperly to tell him she was not going to the United States, but he says she never mentioned their child. He says it took seven years, long after the couple had divorced, for Molly Epperly to write and tell William Epperly he had a daughter.

More years passed. "We always wondered what she looked like, what she was doing," William Epperly's second wife, Janey, said. "It was like she was always a part of the family."

William Epperly did not know where to look for his daughter, but a veterans organization he joined seven years ago brought them together through an ad in a local British paper that Sandra Livesey and her mother spotted.

In February, Livesey -- who said she had known about her American father since she was a teen-ager but never knew where to look for him -- telephoned him.

Hasty preparations were made for William Epperly to travel to England to see his daughter and grandson. Livesey in turn made plans to go to Virginia in September to meet her stepmother, her three half-brothers and her half-sister.