It was not until three years after her mother died in 1990 that DeRonda Elliott opened the suitcase containing the letters her parents exchanged during World War II.
Despite her mother’s urging, she had never been able to bring herself to read them. It was her parents’ private story. Her father, Frank, had been killed on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and afterward her mother seldom spoke of him.
When Elliott, a retired nurse from Durham, N.C., finally examined the correspondence in 1993, she was overwhelmed. The letters told an exquisite story of a romantic young couple whose lives were defined and then crushed by the war.
The letters were so moving that many were later published in American Heritage magazine. President Bill Clinton quoted from one in a speech on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994.
Twenty years later, it seemed fitting to present some of them again as they were printed in American Heritage.
Frank M. Elliott, 23, who had left Georgetown University to join the Army in 1943, wrote from England. His letters are in italic. Pauline “Polly” Elliott, 24, wrote from their home in New Castle, Pa. Their daughter, DeRonda “Dee,” was a toddler.
May 6, 1944
All day I have been fighting the feeling which has been dominating me of late. I keep continually thinking of home and longing for home in the worst way. All your letters of how beautiful my daughter is becoming by the day. The realization that I am missing all these months and years of her formative growth is actually gnawing at my heart. . . .
I love you, Frank
May 9, 1944
The invasion, I read, is a topic of daily conjecture among the people at home and I guess you are a mite worried. Well, sweetheart, don’t worry, please. It is possible I may be a member in the assault but no more possible than that I may someday die. It is God’s will darling, to which we must all bow, and His will be done is a daily admonition we make. I don’t hold with the ‘theory of the inevitable’ school and so you may be sure that I won’t invite disaster in any form. In prep school we had a quarterback who always qualified his pre-game prayers with the phrase, “Not my will God, but Thine” and so it is sweetheart and so it must always be — we must trust our God unflinchingly, unquestioningly. But enough of this heavy stuff . . . school’s out.
I love ’em all but Polly best of all —
May 20, 1944
Dad sent a fellow today to fix up our yard and he really did a super job — it looks nice. There is so much shrubbery here and so many with plants all around that I can never find enough time to keep it looking as it should look. Now it looks wonderful. All the spring flowers are beginning to bloom now and the sight of them just increases my longing for you. . . . Sometimes I sympathize with myself by counting up the months since I’ve seen you — and because they are too many — nearly eight now — I feel very, very sorry for myself. . . . Really dear, I try not to feel sorry for me — there are many who are much worse off than I — you are the one who is undergoing all the hardship — I have Dee who in herself is enough to compensate for anything. Without her, I don’t see how I would endure this separation. Yet constantly, darling, all of me longs for you. It can’t be much longer now, sweetheart.
I love you, Polly
May 27, 1944
. . . Darn it darling, I would certainly like to be on hand when Dee goes to see her first movie. Take her to Youngstown, Pittsburgh or Cleveland to one of those theatres with a long impressive lobby with candy counters and attractive posters. I’ll bet she will love it. Don’t postpone her enjoyment till I come home, but let me know how she reacts to all the glamour of Hollywood’s productions. . . .
May 28, 1944
Here it is Sunday again — Sunday night. I think this is the most lonely time of the whole week for me. I am so darn lonesome for you, Frank darling. Oh I’m not the only one and I know it — there are millions just like me, wishing with all the strength of their hearts and minds for the return of peace and loved ones. — Dee is sleeping on this Sunday night, and the radio is playing old and beautiful music — and I am thinking of the Sunday nights to come when you will be listening to such music with me. — Took Dad to a ball game today — Dee went along — maybe she’ll learn to like baseball as well as her Daddy does — I’ll bet that she will.
I adore you, Polly
June 1, 1944
. . . I hope it isn’t a military secret when I tell you that we have been away from our cooks for quite some time. I just bring up the point to extend a little human interest. As you must know the cooks are always a brow-beaten, bullied lot no matter what outfit they are in. Well the other day the poor dears cooked up a batch of huge cookies and sent them down here to where we are stationed. Now wasn’t that nice of them after all the verbal criticism they have gotten for their pains in the past. But I love Polly so much — I’d even eat her biscuits —
I love you, Frank
June 5, 1944
. . . This is a beautiful summer evening, darling. I am sitting at the kitchen table (and not even noticing the noise of the refrigerator) from which place by merely lifting my head and looking out the window I can gaze upon a truly silvery, full moon. It’s beautiful, dear — really beautiful, and it has succeeded in making me very sentimental. I had begun to think that I was becoming immune to the moon’s enchantment — so often I have looked at it without you and to keep myself from going mad told myself “It’s pretty, yes — but, so what?”. . . That’s not the way it really is though, darling — the sight of that shining moon up there — the moon that shines on you, too — fills me with romance — ; and even though it’s just a dream now, it’s a promise of a glorious future with one I love more than life. The darned old moon keeps shining for us, darling — and even as it now increases that inescapable loneliness, it also increases my confidence in the future. I truly love you . . .
June 6, 1944
Frank M. Elliott was killed.