Polly Elliott continued to write her husband, Frank, weeks after he had been killed on D-Day.
Five times in June, she wrote, unaware that he had died on Omaha Beach on the first day of the World War II invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
Throughout July, she wrote the 23-year-old former Georgetown student, telling him about their home in New Castle, Pa., and their little daughter, “Dee.”
Finally, on Aug. 6, 1944, Pauline “Polly” Elliott, 24, got a telegram saying that Frank had been killed two months earlier.
Fifty years later, after DeRonda Elliott — Dee in the letters — first read her parents’ moving correspondence, she decided to take advantage of a federal program that helped her get flowers for her father’s grave in Normandy.
It was the venerable “flower fund” that the American Battle Monuments Commission had run since the 1950s to honor the tens of thousands of American war dead in overseas cemeteries.
Last month, six decades after it began, the program was terminated.
Citing the cost in work hours and the ability of people to use the Internet and phone to make arrangements, the commission said this is the final Memorial Day it will facilitate the placement of flowers.
“We, the American Battle Monuments Commission, will no longer be processing the orders,” commission spokesman Tim Nosal said last week. “We’re asking the public to go directly to florists to order the flowers. That takes the government out of the middle.”
Nosal said it also enables people to use credit cards, which they couldn’t do with the flower fund.
The fund, which was set up in the years right after the war, enabled people to send a check to the commission, which would purchase and place flowers on the grave and send a photograph of the grave and flowers back to the purchaser.
The fund helped friends and relatives of the 124,000 Americans from World Wars I and II buried in the commission’s 25 overseas cemeteries.
“It was a very good thing at the time,” Nosal said. “But today’s world is very different.”
He said there are two main reasons the commission is closing the fund.
“One is to get us out of the process of ordering, which is something that we shouldn’t have been doing anyway,” he said. “We’ve been doing it since the ’50s, just because. It’s incredibly time consuming.”
“Number two, the agency is changing, and we need to put more effort into telling the stories of the people we honor in our cemeteries overseas,” he said. He said the commission has been building visitor centers at its cemeteries to accomplish that task.
The commission has notified 1,900 families and organizations that have utilized the program in the past two years that it was ending, he said.
“There was no mandate to do it,” Nosal said. “We receive no funding to operate it.”
He said he didn’t know the cost of running the program, but, overseas, it required more than 700 man hours a year to operate. He said the commission processed more than $98,000 in flower requests last year.
In the future, the commission will still arrange for direct next of kin to get a graveside photo once flowers have been delivered, he said.
The battle monuments commission is a small government agency established by Congress in 1923. It is based in Arlington and has about 400 employees worldwide.
But some people don’t want it to step out of the flower process.
“We feel like the government should continue to be an intermediary for us,” DeRonda Elliott, now 72, a retired nurse from Durham, N.C., said last week.
“It’s the least, littlest thing they could still do for us,” she said. “It’s like a connection with the government that our fathers died for.”
“We buy the flowers,” she said. “They make sure the flowers get to the grave. Probably . . . the staff of the cemetery takes a picture, and then they send us a picture. And that’s it. That’s all they do.”
“I guess we feel like they’re letting us down,” she said.
Elliott said her father, who was a senior at Georgetown when the United States entered the war, was an Army corporal in an amphibious tank that was disabled by enemy gunfire as it made its way ashore on D-Day.
He escaped from the tank, made it to the beach and survived until he stepped on a land mine near the end of the day, she said.
“The man who was with him told me his body was completely gone, and there was nothing really to bury,” she said. “There were some remains, of course, which we did bury.”
She said her father rests in the American cemetery in Normandy — Plot 1, Row 16, Grave 1 — where her mother decided to have him buried rather than bring him home.
Years later, she said, her mother visited the cemetery, which has more than 9,000 graves, and was pleased with her decision.
Elliott said she knew almost nothing about her father until after her mother died in 1990 and she began to read the letters her mother had kept in a small suitcase.
Little was ever said about him, even though her mother never remarried.
“It was just her and me,” she said.
“I got to know him through the letters,” she said. “That’s when I began feeling like, ‘I really know this man, and I want to honor him.’ ”
Bob Holliday, a lawyer from Des Moines, said he has ordered flowers three times a year for 40 years for the grave of his father, Karl, an Army artillery captain who is buried in the American cemetery in Margraten, in the Netherlands.
Eight thousand Americans are buried there.
Karl “Hap” Holliday, 26, who grew up on a “dirt farm” near Promise City, Iowa, was killed in a German ambush on April 13, 1945, four weeks before the war ended in Europe, his son said.
“War wounds more than just those who are wounded or killed on a battlefield,” Holliday, now 71, said in an interview. “You know how many man hours I’ve spent thinking about my dad, and what he could have been like? Don’t talk to me about man hours.”
“By having the government directly involved . . . tells us our government cares,” he said. “By turning this loose, they just don’t give a damn.”
“Putting a floral decoration in front of a white marble cross tells everybody that looks at it . . . that soldier meant something to somebody,” he said. “And he’s remembered.”
“Those people buried in those cemeteries, most in their 20s, they died . . . for us and they died for our government,” he said. “Don’t walk away from that.”