May/June 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 3
This is a story of the months prior to June 6,1944, and a few of the days following, told through some of the letters my twenty-three-year-old father, Frank Elliott, wrote my mother, Pauline, while he was with Company A of the 741st Tank Battalion, and some she sent him at the time of the Normandy landings.
It begins with three telegrams to my mother, one sent on the day of my birth from Camp Young, near Indio, California, where he was in desert training, although, as it turned out, the unit never went to North Africa.
All correspondence was read and approved or disapproved for mailing prior to making its way to the addressee, so there is scant indication of troop movements or other military matters.
My parents were from New Castle, Pennsylvania, a town with a wartime population of about fifty thousand, and home to steel, bronze, and a few other heavy industries. My father’s father and his uncle, Reuben, owned a small family steel mill, which is still in operation today. My parents met while my mother was in college in Erie, Pennsylvania; my father was a senior at Georgetown University when he enlisted in the Army.
I’m publishing these letters now for those who remember that war or any war, for anyone who might not understand what war does to each life that it touches, and as a tribute to those whose lives have not turned out the way they planned.
St. Louis, Mo., January 19, 1942
I HAVE, THE BLUES DARLING AND ST. LOUIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT MUCH LOVE FRANK
Indio, Calif., January 8, 1943
DARLING YOU’RE TOPS ENROUTE TONIGHT MAY TAKE 3 DAYS LOVE FRANK
Chicago, Ill., January 11, 1943
NO FINGERNAILS LEFT WILL BE BUYING BOXING GLOVES OR BABY DOLLS FRANK
Camp Polk, La. April 28, 1943
I was working today when your telegram was delivered to me and I dropped everything. After reading it I went back to work with increased fervor because your letter or gram was so consoling and heartening. My darling I never could have believed that my love for you could grow to any greater proportions but it has darling. It has become unspeakably intense, so great that I can’t encompass it. Pauline darling, you are so restrained so so very warmingly withdrawing and controlled. Your love for me must be great and in its greatness it makes me unworthy. I hustled you in shopping and rushed you across a street and I only had two days with you. I loathe the impulse that leads me to such mad action. Your kindness, your demuring withdrawal from fighting back is all so endearing so inexplicably adorable that I feel like a drowning rat. Perhaps I never knew you till just this weekend. Perhaps it’s because I discovered more and more about you that is so lovable. Perhaps it’s the total lack of any taint in your makeup. I don’t know what it is my darling but I do know I have never loved you like this before and I have loved you so much it’s awful to remark. Every word you spoke, every syllable, every part of your body, every hair on your head, every expression that found itself on your beautiful lovely features, just served to increase to gigantic extremes the humble love my inadequate heart feels for you. …
Your worthy-wanting husband, Frank
Darling I just heard these songs and shut my eyes and listened and saw you across from me and felt you moving smoothly in my arms in a certain Zephyr Room.
“Swanee—How I Love Yah”
“Strike Up the Band”
“The Man I Love”
“Lady Be Good To Me”
“Somebody Loves Me”
“I Got Rhythm”
“I Got Plenty of Nothin’”
“It Ain’t Necessarily So”
November 1, 1943
My Dearest Wife,
If this writing appears to be extraordinarily wavy, it is due to the environment. We are en-route across seas in a large boat but none with any name to speak of. The meals are cooked by limeys and sure taste it. …
November 5, 1943
Hello Mrs. Frank,
… I was counting on Christmas with my daughter—you know that and I am human; only my feeling for you is super human. … Until we are again together I live in the past. We converse nightly darling and we walk together through the day. … Please enjoy your holidays darling as it will be your last one without me. … So it is my wish for me to enjoy this strange land at Christmas to be sure in my heart that Dee and her angelic mother are also enjoying this gay festive Yuletide. Give my greetings to Kate, Eb, Jack, Ann & Ma & Pa Lynch and my best wishes for this coming year which will see peace come to the world. The boys are discussing the English monetary system so I had best lend them my banking experience to settle the discussion. All my love my angel madonna I love you and how well you shall realize it by Christmas in ’44.
November 12, 1943
… To-day we got our implements and on our particular weapon was the message “Good luck boys I hope you win soon. Love and kisses—I am a little girl.” Cute, don’t you think? It was written in a childish hand. (Such as mine.) Kiss our very beautiful little girl for me darling. …
All my love, Frank
November 25, 1943
The people of this vicinity of the British Empire have good reason to give thanks on this Thanksgiving day. The reason; the sun is actually shining. The sun, ol’ sol, that immense planet that gives its life heat to that part of the world where I was born. Last seen by myself in New York, I thought it phenomenal that it was no longer in evidence. I scanned the papers in vain for some clue as to its departure but, failing to see it mentioned, I decided it came under that vast category—a military secret. The tri-partite powers have condescended to let it reappear at the appropriate time. …
Sincerely I love you, Frank
December 3, 1943
… Rondy is a cute pseudonym for our daughter but it will be DeRonda whenever she misbehaves—as if she ever could! I get a pass to Bristol soon and will put forth supreme effort to get my wife and sweet child a gift. But since I’m going on a Sunday I don’t know what fruits my efforts will bear. There are so many things I should like to tell you dearest but some of them are censorable and some are too sacred to us to be written—even in a whisper. I was sorry to hear about the glass top to our coffee table. That particular glass top held many pleasant memories of tangy beers and good books—ah well! It served us well and sentiments should not be wasted. …
I love you I love you Frank
December 8, 1943
I never mentioned about the car. It will inconvenience you a great deal and the decision is therefore one for you to make. I am glad of / course that you were able to realize such a good price on it. Figuring the radio and heater, we lost only about 150 $. If I figured in the repair bills I would have to consult Morgenthau. … I wonder what kind of car we will be buying after this war? Since you have a more practical mind than I and excellent taste as well I will leave that also to you. …
December 11, 1943
Ah the dreadful ways of fate. Woe to the lover if he is an E.M. in the E.T.O. (enlisted man in the European Theatre of Operations). Here is what I mean. A beautiful moon, the censor, and you. The moon tonight resembles the mythical silver dollar, a romantic moon in a starry sky. Remember how I used to compose poetry to your beauty when I was at Georgetown? Well I have the same feeling now. The words are formed, the stanzas composed, the meter is established but—enter censor. Oh, tut, tut, they wouldn’t let it be known to my compatriots but I can just visualize and preconceive the agony I would experience if I ever sent a poem as I feel I could right now. I can see the amused glances, the contemptuous smirks, the jeering silence of the censor’s eyes as we passed on the street. I should be like the killer whose own conscience condemned him. Oh well you probably wouldn’t like the poem anyhow and it isn’t so complicated that I can’t boil it down to—I love you very much darling.
December 11, 1943
… We had a windshield laying on the table in the barracks to-day and I unthinkingly tossed my cigarettes and lighter on it as being the most convenient spot. I reached for them later and was struck immediately that they reminded me of something past. In just that common rearranged picture I was swept on a wave of nostalgia to our own warm living room. I won’t pretend that the polished surface of our coffee table in the least resembled this crude clapboard table nor that the shining glass top at home bears any similarity to the dirty mine creased windshield of a tank but the basic elements of glass and wood were there and my second gear brain ground out the rest. Actually darling I could perceive the sounds and smells that so much endear me to our home. I half expected to hear you speak. Ah I guess all this sounds exaggerated or melodramatic or acutely sentimental but the feeling I have just tried to describe was a moving thing. …
Your loving husband, Frank
December 12, 1943
My darling wife,
… This is in your hands probably just two or less days before Christmas. It is a matter of record that this is the one event in my daughter’s life that I shall miss most keenly. Her first Christmas. … Me, I’m saving for the Christmas that sees me kissing you just before we go to Mass and for the Christmas Eve when I get to read “Twas the Night etc.” to our angel.
All my love, Frank
I did not find a letter dated Christmas Day. There was an Army greeting card and the following clipping from The New Yorker magazine.
Love in War
We are now masters of the present tense, Having imposed upon ourselves a law Prohibiting the future. The once immense Treasure of words is halved as we withdraw Into this moment only, now, today, Or into the past; and each of us, separate, Is haunted by the things he dare not say For fear of tempting a perverted fate. This is no speech for lovers. The silence aches With unuttered dreams of child and home and peace And life at last together. The heart breaks With so much that the lips may not release. Not even in each other’s arms, not ever Can we permit ourselves to say “forever.”
January 2, 1944
I wrote you on New Year’s day but I immediately messed up the letter so I’m rewriting it. I want to tell you how those enveloped letters affect me. Like the 12th bottle of Duquesne beer, like a double run in Pinochle, like a parachute jump, it goes to my head, my heart, my feet, fingers, ears. Oh darling Oh mercy is all I can say. I love, idolize you. I have received two subscriptions to the Readers Digest, one from Mom, one from my sweet wife. You two should get together or send me a Sub to the New Yorker. Also—you asked for this, so start duckin’ Could I have some shaving lotion please!—its the key to my power over women. …
January 3, 1944
Your Christmas cards are in excellent taste and the captivating child pictured thereon can not be my daughter. She is so much bigger it seems. Take a close look and you will notice that her leg is not only touching the ground it is actually bent at the knee. That means she is at least two inches taller than the last time I saw her. … Did you ever hear of powdered eggs? That is always on the menu morning after morning day after day. I would sacrifice a great deal just to eat a fried egg cooked sunnyside up by you, darling. …
January 11, 1944
Last night in one of my pre-dream reveries I was dreaming of an idea that was designed to revolutionize the strip steel industry. However, with the dawn of an English day the idea began to look like a drunkard’s dream (and me a teetotaler) and I have at last cast it away to the winds having first memorized the faults of the idea. I hesitate to mention the idea for fear of being scoffed at but since Firestone and Edison were both successful inventors and attributed their successes to the counsel of their wives I am going to briefly outline the idea to you. It had to do with the rolling and thinning of steel as it is done on a four high Steckle Mill of the type used at our plant. I wondered if it weren’t possible to weld a section of the sheet of steel to itself so that the strip instead of having to be run through several times could be run to the desired degree of thinness by one continual passing. …
I love you Frank
January 16, 1944
Dearest A cold frosty Sunday morning. The kind of Sunday when I’ll freeze my fingers wiping the frost from the windshield as you and Dee sit huddled closely near the heater which gives only a promise of heat. Those Sunday morning sojourns in fulfillment of our religious duties will be worth the trouble because I can already smell the bacon frying as I lounge comfortably back reading the paper. So get up, go to church, meet your obligations but bear in mind the satisfying breakfast and comfortable chair that awaits you after Mass. To you, on whose shoulders rests the necessity of creating breakfast, it will be just another day with the added handicap of a husband underfoot. … Let’s go to Youngstown this afternoon and see a show darling or do you expect friends in for a game; if so where did you hide the beer?
I love you darling Frank
January 24, 1944
Hi Mrs. Elliott,
If there is anything, any single item to which the dogface in the ETO could point as being the cause of a tremendous lowering of morale it is this; the Sunday funny papers. Blondie, Popeye, and others of their kind are sorely lacking in the papers of the U.K. … We just list Maggie and Jiggs among the folks we left behind and long to return again to their company. How does my daughter react to the colorful antics of the funny folk? I don’t suppose she fully appreciates them as yet but it won’t be long until you are reading them to her. …
February 1, 1944
I don’t know about that promised trip to England after the war darling. This consistent murky weather is very depressing. Of course when you come over with me the sun will certainly shine all the time. If not for the benefit of all, certainly in my heart, because your presence will make it so. That would be a good experience for Dee to come over here at about the age of six. It will be a fine contribution to her education so we will set ’49 as the vear when we will make the visit. That is of course unless she is such a prodigy that she will surpass all knowledge that traveling will benefit her little at that time. …
February 4, 1944
Did I ever ask you to send me the words to “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”? That is a beautiful song and properly sung is very moving. You say Dee is walking. Gosh a mighty am I ever out in the cold with my daughter.
February 18, 1944
There has just been a hot crap game reported to me from the next barracks and the fact that I sit down to write my wife a letter is indication of a strong indomitable power of will. Either that or I’m broke. … My “longJohns” which I told you I washed out last night are still decorating the barracks clothesline—My but I’m in a romantic vein tonight. It is just the homing instinct that causes me to mention that darling—I have never seen you as you will be after a hard day’s laundering. Hair disheveled and all tired out with dish-water hands and powderless face. That is when I’ll love you most. …
February 21, 1944
The matter of you accepting work is a decision entirely up to you to make. I can’t say anything pro or con because I have no definitive or construetive thoughts in either direction. …
I love you, Frank
February 28, 1944
Cold and dark is this typical English evening and morning will bring only a change in the latter element. If any of my old football jerseys are laying around anyplace I would like to have them. The blue and gold silk one or any of the green or red ones. Don’t send anything that’s good or buy something new but these would do the trick of warming the blood in the wee small hours.… Keep grinnin’ Irish —
Today was $ day and all the boys are sitting around raising, fading, shooting and anteing. But me, I have waged a bitter yet successful battle against the tempting evil devil of the dice and am nicely penning my darling wife a love note. Was quite closely studying the map of Europe today and it’s a hell of a big place. Where do people get that “small world” routine they pass out. Such is life—
I love you Frank
March 4, 1944
It amazes even your husband that in all my writing to you I have never mentioned the one thing that affects my life most deeply, i.e., the Army chow line. This phenomenon quite resembles a snake. A long, coiling, many vertebraed snake. To the distant observer the rattler is brought to mind due to the continual rattle and hiss coming therefrom. There are in this coiling line every manner of dogface goldbrick (up front) chowhound, and boot polisher in the Army. I know one fellow who has a photo of a chow line with an officer (a 2nd Looey) standing about mid-way through with mess gear in hand. This is such a rarity that he has been offered thousands by the Smithsonian and the London Museum for the negative thereof. Me? I’m just another one of the vertebra previously mentioned. It causes me to say that I’d wait a century just for your burnt biscuits.
March 23, 1944
… The problems of supply are not ones that ordinarily trouble me but today I had reason to be involved on the side lines of a humorous squabble that ended happily for all concerned. It seems that there was an excess of ammunition boxes in the company and that there was an order issued from somewhere that they were to be turned back to the tanks and there placed in the best available space. This was carried out from supply and it was a matter of time (and very little time at that) before every member of every victimized tank crew was storming the doors of the supply room with obvious intentions of manslaughter in mind. The sergeant of supply beat a hasty and not too well ordered retreat to more peaceful surroundings leaving the henchmen in charge to care for the irate crews. It all ended happily for all concerned when some Samaritan brought order out of chaos when he investigated and had the order rescinded and the little ugly boxes (which incidentally may someday be the cause of saving a life or two of the protesting group) removed. All of which has little to do with the way I miss Hamburgers à la Coney Island, American beer à la Duquesne, American shows à la Penn Theatre and American girls à la YOU. I love you.
March 27, 1944
… Are the kids at home starting to play baseball yet? It is in the air over here but the major league warmups lack the color and punch of former years. Will the day ever return when I can come home to you and expect you to furnish the scores of all the games played that day. … James Cagney was in person here last night and the place was jammed so I didn’t bother to go see him, however a couple of guys from this outfit went in through the stage door claiming that Jimmy and they were boyhood buddies from 96th St. in New York. Some 2nd Looey let them in on the weight of this tale so you can see what the boys think of a Lieutenant’s gullibility. …
All my love, Frank
March 29, 1944
I don’t know how to say thank you for your extravagance and generosity. You worked for a good month as a school teacher and then you send me money. Well I have myself to blame. I could hardly blame you for interpreting my expression of my gambling losses as a request for money. You lovely adorable imp. Didn’t I tell you before that I’m merely existing over here in anticipation of my life’s beginning with you? Darling I love you sincerely with more overwhelming power than the ordinary heart could endure. Ours is the perfect formula for love everlasting. Nothing of the world could rise to separate us from each other. Darling we fit like the last piece of the puzzle. Please don’t send me any more money. I’m the guy who is supposed to be the provider and you make me feel cheap and at the same time cause a surge of love and understanding and a meekness. …
March 30, 1944
Somehow when I write out the ‘United States of America’ it gives me a sort of a moral boost. Writing it, looking at it, and reflecting on the powerful meaning of that word ‘united’ is good for a person. The immediate reflection and knowledge that it is no trite symbol and that these 48 are really one with one common purpose is some gigantic thought to encompass. Compare the continent of North America with its 175 million odd and see what other continent is so singular in purpose. Australia, mebbe! but then it is a midget—Europe, Asia, Africa and even the presently peaceful continent South of us is disrupted with powers and claimants to power, with rulers and claimants thereof. It seems that the word ‘united’ should be the one reassuring, encouraging word, the word that must cause the defeatist and skeptic some worried moments. Class dismissed—
I love you, Frank
April 3, 1944
No doubt you have often heard of the army-bred expression “goldbrick,” and I suppose you would like to know just what are my impressions of this ancient and honorable method of avoiding strenuous labors. In a tank outfit such as the one I am in there are three types of labor 1) tank maintenance work of a type calling for crew cooperation, 2) company group labor or such things as calisthenics and road marches, 3) classes on pertinent subjects taught by the company officers, or mental anguish. Any person who avoids participation in group number one is an out and out bum and never will work in his life, he is a poor crew man and not the type to be relied on in the event of battle. The type who avoids category two are a wily breed and cause the poor greying first sergeant no end of worries. They are the most difficult to detect because they usually have a legitimate excuse for their absence. … The third element is made up of a group definitely possessing class. No crude stock excuse is good enough for them. In their subtleties they delve deep into fantasy and come up with something that would do credit to Jules Verne. The person in authority who dares question them as to the reasons for their absence is subjected to first, a sneer of disdain, second, an impenetrable attitude of indifference and lastly, they become audience to a dissertation on the circumstances that caused the class in question to be missed. So lengthy is the oral thesis that the interrogator is only too glad to forget about the whole thing and let you off with a warning. I look for a manpower shortage after this even more intense than the one that now exists but I also expect to see a boom in the market of fantastic mystery stories. …
I love you, Frank
April 9, 1944
Honey, did you ever see a football game? Well the players on the various teams wear sweaters on which are printed numbers. The sweaters are various colors—the texture of the sweater differs from that of a knot wool. I thought that perhaps I still had a few remaining from the day when I played ball and that they could be sent to me here. I know that I described it as gold with blue numerals but I never thought you would take it to mean my fresh- man numerals which I gave to you anyhow and which is yours darling, not mine. If it is too late I will (as soon as they arrive) send them back. The green sweater I will keep and wear—but even in the case of the green sweater I meant the practice jerseys we wore at John Carroll. It’s a mere technicality and I can’t blame you for making such a mistake. —
I love you, Frank
April 11, 1944
“Generous amount of determination,” “knows her own mind.” Nice subtle ways of saying boy is she stubborn. So now it is your plain duty to direct DeRonda’s purposefulness into the proper channels. I will plead guilty on all charges that she inherits her ah—determination from her Dad and so it is that I beg of you to use whatever method seems best to see to it that her beauty is not marred by a personality dominated by bull-headedness and lack of sufferance. If children could only be made to realize that acquiescence is the better part of accomplishment. Then again we move into hazardous grounds since we don’t want our child to be made a fool of. —
April 11, 1944
Tell my sister Mary that her gift of sheet music to Maresy Doats was very much appreciated. — Tell Dondy ElIy Elliott that her Dad loves her and prays and plans for the day when he can come home to live with her. Tell Dorothy Wadlinger that when Mr. Elliott comes home she can expect more than a Coke and less conversation when she comes to spend the evening. It will be my policy to keep the Frigidaire bursting with 3.2 in case some of your friends drop in. A case just in case I always say. —
April 23, 1944
All this time in this army and I haven’t improved myself an iota. Today I had an occasion to saw a piece of wood about two feet long and to my amazement and deep chagrin discovered that my abilities as a carpenter are limited—but definitely. So when a cellar step comes loose in our life to come I will gladly furnish you with the hammer and nails. I who assure you that I will patiently endure the noise of hammering whilst you attend the ailing step. I praise your talents to the end darling, you have the ability to perform in any capacity and I’m sure you will save us many dollars by being a regular Mrs. Fixit. A house is an odd piece of equipment as it is in a constant state of deterioration but my worries along that line ended with a certain lovely marriage. I have learned one trade in the army—I have been washing my own clothes for these many months—so I shall buy you a carpentry set for Christmas and you can buy me a washing machine. I love you.
April 26, 1944
Well when I get to thinking of home I just get homesick as the dickens but one consoling thought is that the thing is bound to be half over and I guess I can do the balance of my time in this army on my head. The day we plan for will, please God, someday dawn and when I get off that train in Mahoningtown since that has always been the method I used to enter Ne Ca. But it may be a boat in New York, or a plane in Pittsburgh—but who cares as long as I see you.
I love you, Frank
April 28, 1944
Ah ha the hidden secrets of the clouded past do in time come out in sharp relief. I knew that one so fair could not go long with but a single swain but my expectations never considered so great a rival. … Darling please say you love me, please say it is me and no one else. Please please forsake all past regards for James Cagney. … If you say adieu to him in my behalf—I shall strip the tank, the barracks wall, yeah, even my recoil guard will be bared of all appealing pin-ups. If this isn’t enough I shall go whole hog—with your promise of unfaltering devotion I shall have your name tattooed on my leg beneath an appropriate image of Gypsy Rose L.—uh, I mean Miss Liberty. What joy of security will then be yours. …
May 3, 1944
I sincerely pray that if you fail to hear from me for a while, you will recall the words of the Gospel, “A little while and you shall not see me and again a little while and you shall see me.” But in your thoughts I shall always be and you in mine, no matter how great grows the gap of physical relationship. The A.P.O. has been a pretty good method to use thus far and I don’t expect it to fail us at this point. It’s funny how the Post Office includes all the acts of God in it, with wind, rain, snow, sleet but the most devastating act of man, war, is not considered a surmountable element by the government courier. …
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, unquestioningIy. But enough of this heavy stuff…school’s out.
I love ‘em all but Polly best of all—
May 10, 1944
… You know something that makes me pensive even brings on a sort of nostalgic sentimentality. It’s a Blondie comic strip with its down-to-earth, American, homely comedy. It is like a look into our future and sort of bewilders me. I query myself as to will I be like that, am I that dumb, will Polly do this? But however it may be it’s a nice feeling even if it does cause a homesick hangover. What a hangover I anticipate on my arrival in Ne Ca.
I love Paul-y, Frank
May 18, 1944
I can’t begin to tell you how much that picture affected me. I saw my daughter as though for the first time. She stood alone and grown. Unsupported by adult hands with flowers of much bedimmed beauty in her hands. …
I love you, Frank
May 21, 1944
I sat down to write this about ten minutes ago. In the interim we had a mail call. I was unanimously elected to represent mv group at this sometimes disheartening ritual. As I expected and true to precedent I was not mentioned in the list. So now I lack the original spirit which I had when I first sat down. My adoration for Polly hasn’t been affected in the least but somehow or other my greedy nature went without being satiated and I feel like panting. See what a big boob of a baby you are wedded to? … Remember that slogan, “Lucky Strike green has gone to war”? Well, this must be it because today we drew rations and those who smoke Luckies saw the pack coated with its homesickening green. I luckily procured a Liberty magazine recently and got on the Cock-eyed Crossword puzzle—for a moment there I thought I was slipping but I finally did get it solved though no time records were challenged. The one that stumped me was 50 Across: When a landlord can’t collect rent for this, he Sioux. Answer: TEPEE. So … I still retain some of my masterful touch. (And do I hate to brag.) Today I took a shower. To you that is a very commonplace statement of an even more commonplace event—but not to me. On this island England, water is a rationed item (but not to civilians). Hot water is as rare as scotch whiskey and in such quantities as to make a shower feasible, well it just ain’t had. Thus we experience the rigors of war. I once wrote and told you of the contents of the army food ration-K. Now I can tell you of an even more tempting ration known as 10-in-1 milk, butter, jam, bacon, sausage, stew, cereal, salt, just everything. Well, the other day someone left a box of said rations sitting out in front of the CP tent. Ashby and I schemed to relieve the owner of such an oppressive burden and carried it off. We removed the delectable contents of the box and refilled it with sod in order to escape immediate detection. Well, the gag of the month is that the box belonged to Ashby in the first place and was placed there without his knowledge. … By the way—what’s happened to the baseball boys—even with all the 4-F’s and over/under aged players there is no excuse for the Philadelphia (Blue Jays?) Phillies being subjected to the altitude of 3rd place. Something is surely amiss. It won’t be long till Judge Landis is petitioned to investigate the situation. G’night love and all my love.
May 26, 1944
And again today there is no mail delivery. I protest most vehemently, it ain’t right. As Patrick Henry once said, give me liberty or give me some mail—yeah and even a long liberty over here couldn’t make up for some little mail from my darling wife. —
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 31, 1944
‘Lucky guy’ is the way the paper described this particular guy and then they went on to tell his story. He had been in action on several fronts; he had quite an enviable reputation as a brave guy and a fighter. He was given a furlough to go home and take a subsequent bond-selling tour through the states. At the comnletion of the trio he was asked by General Arnold what he would like the most and he was to be granted his wish. So now he is back with his old outfit overseas and sleeping in his old bunk. Talk about nauseating, talk about disgusting—ugh! Just ask me what I would like and darling our days of separation would be limited. …
June 1, 1944
I have a sneaking suspicion that these letters are not being sent via V-mail but rather on the long, long sea voyage before reaching you. If such is the case let me know and I will switch immediately to steady air-mail and at least we will know how it is going and that it will make it eventually. 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
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 23, 1944
Housecleaning time spurs me to make all kinds of changes in the furnishings of our humble abode. Tonight I am sitting here admiring the appearance of our living room since the furniture has been re-arranged in never-before-tried fashion. I finally got around to putting our small radio into the living room…sounds good now—but this sentimental music, darling, it makes me miss you so terribly. We haven’t heard from you now in a week—but tomorrow’s Saturday and there may be several letters. … I wonder if you are missing me tonight even almost as much as I am missing you. I wish you had had a “hard day” at the mill today and I had housecleaned very industriously—then we had spent a pleasant evening together—and now we were in each other’s arms.
I love you, Polly
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 5, 1944
After a wonderfully lazy weekend at the cottage, I had to engage myself in quite an argument this morning before I was able to convince me that I could arouse enough ambition to do the weekly wash! How cruel grim reality can be!! … 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, darling.
Saturday, just after I finished writing you, a bulletin to the effect that the Allies had landed in France was read over the radio. Not having heard from you in over 2 weeks you can imagine what my first thought and prayer was. The announcement, however, was “killed” about 15 minutes later. Nevertheless we still think “something’s up.” Suspicious, aren’t we?? The man in that moon keeps winking at me every time I look up—must be a message from you—because that’s probably what you’d be doing when we told you we thought “something was up.” Rondy thinks that man in the moon is a pretty funny guy.
As ever, I don’t seem to have much news for you today, sweetheart—life is rather eventless at present, but it’s a good life when there’s our future to dream of. Please kiss me—and hold me close to you, Frank. I adore you—
June 6, 1944
Well, “something was up”—even at the time I was writing you last night. “D-Day” has finally arrived. The news had begun to be broadcast around midnight last night, I believe, but I didn’t know of it until 7 o’clock this morning when I turned the radio on. The news brought a kind of relief and great concern. The first thought of all of us here at home was a prayer. I can’t deny, darling, that anxiety for your well-being fills my heart. True, I don’t know that you are taking part in this phase of the invasion but it is very probable that you are. And my thoughts are with you. Spiritually, I am with you. … You are the one who is making all the sacrifices—and yet you are the one who could find the proper words to give us both strength. The letter in which you reminded me that the desire of both of us is that “God’s will be done” continues to be my favorite “bedtime story,” darling—it’s a masterpiece. … I am unable to tell you of the depth of my emotion on this day—but without my telling you I think you know and understand.
All day the radio has broadcast invasion news—constantly —all regularly scheduled programs have been cancelled—and I have been virtually “glued” to the radio. News broadcasts and prayer led by eminent clergymen have occupied most of the time. Bob Hope’s regular broadcast tonight was altered because of “D” Day—there was no clowning—but Bob came through with what in my opinion was one of the most worthwhile thoughts I heard today. … Naturally none of us here at home can think of anything else. But people took the news calmly and soberly—how else could it be taken but soberly. … Among the things distributed to the soldiers crossing the channel was a vomit bag, I understand—and the commentator added that most of them were used. That has its humorous slant—but really it’s not humorous at all—it has more of grimness about it. How little we here at home sacrifice in comparison with you and all the fellows like you.
Little DeRonda was the only one not affected by the D-Day news—she went about her happy little business of living as usual, entirely unaware of the great event. I hope and pray that she will never remember any of this but only the happiness of the hours that will follow her Daddy’s homecoming step on the porch. Good luck to you, darling, wherever you are. We are waiting for you and loving you with all our hearts.
Polly and Dee
June 7, 1944
On this second day of the invasion the news reports say that ‘all is going well’—and that knowledge is some comfort. If only I could know where you are and that you are safe—but wherever you are dearest, my heart is with you.
Today I was surprised and pleased when the father of one of the girls I went to Mercyhurst with stopped off here while on a business trip. He stayed for lunch and we had a pleasant conversation. I hadn’t seen him since before Dee was born and he was amazed at what a ‘big little girl’ she is. He admired her pretty blue eyes but I don’t think that was the reason she wanted to go right along with him when he left—she doesn’t recognize such compliments yet but I hardly think it will be long until she does. I haven’t listened so closely to the invasion news today—but I’m waiting now to hear the news before I go to bed. Kay Kyser is just signing off—whatever the news will be my darling, like Mr. Kyser, I’m just “thinking of you.”
I love you adoringly, Polly
June 8, 1944
A most wonderful thing happened today. I had a letter from you—the first one in 3 weeks—there was no date on the letter and you didn’t impart much information but it was a blessed letter because it was your words and your writing again. Your Mom was in this afternoon and read your letter too—you will never know—you couldn’t—how we yearn for the sight of “our guy” over there.
Bing Crosby is just signing off—I know how you like him—the way I do—and as I listened to his program. I could only enjoy it half as much as I will when you are here with me listening too. …
I love you, Polly
June 12, 1944 Monday
Dearest darling Frank—
Today I feel like the lowest kind of heel. I had 5 letters from you this morning and in two of them you told of receiving no mail and of the despondent feeling that followed. I have tried to write regularly, sweetheart, and don’t often miss a day but it so happens that Dee and I were at the cottage again this weekend and although I did get a letter off to you on Friday night, I went astray on Saturday and Sunday. During the day it is necessary that I watch Rondy almost constantly and in the evening we play cards ‘til late. On both nights everyone suggested that I wait ‘till “tomorrow” to write you—and now look what’s happened. I am tormented by the thought of all the others in your outfit getting mail while you just stand by. Actually the thought makes me ill. I really can’t understand why there should be such a length of time when you didn’t hear from me—but I have a guilty feeling too, because of the two days I did miss on these past two weekends. … I love you so much and the picture I create in my mind of you not getting a letter when the other fellows do makes me hate myself. … When I wrote you on Friday night I didn’t mention that I had received 6 letters from you on that day. After three weeks of silence it was wonderful to receive all those letters. … So glad to hear in one of your letters … that you can still beat any crossword puzzle coming or going. Orchids to you for figuring out “tepee”—that just increases my ‘secret’ pride in you. … Dee is counting on your being here to help her celebrate that second birthday—so’s her Mama. I miss you very much, my dear. All I ever want to do any more is think about you. I have lost all desire for going places and doing things except as I picture myself so doing with you.
Summer is really upon us now. Many of the flowers have come and gone already. The house-cleaning is over and we have settled down to a rather lazy life—you know how it is in summer. I often think longingly of last summer and the scattered days we had together. … Darn it, summer “gets” me, darling. … I long to be with you. But since I can’t be, all I want to do is stay home and remember what wonderful times we have had together and imagine the perfection of the future. … Even thinking about it now I am getting into the clouds—a wonderful feeling, even if it is solely in the imagination. I get way up there in the clouds and then slowly I begin to think about how things really are—about how far away you are and how close to danger you may be—and then I forget about the clouds, knowing only that with my whole heart and mind I love you and long for you and pray for your safety. There are lots of things, intimate things, I want to say, and yet now it doesn’t seem right to say more than “I adore you”—it seems that all such words should wait until we are reunited—should wait unuttered until that glorious day of reunion—for it can’t be so long now, darling—it can’t be. When I imagine—or remember, I should say—your kiss, that is enough to keep me waiting forever.
I adore you, Polly
June 19, 1944
Had two letters from you today—wonderful letters—written on the 25th and 26th of May. I had hoped that I would have a letter written on a more recent date today—a date nearer the invasion date. That, I guess, is what I hoped for—but when those letters came, they were so very nice that I didn’t even think about being disappointed. I do wish though, darling, that I knew where you are and how you are. …
Thursday night June 22,1944
My darling husband,
… Frank, darling, one of your letters today was “queer”—the tone of it scared me because I could feel that though you praised me you were displeased with me—just the fact that you started it merely “Dear Polly” (though that in itself has never been a cause for alarm) and didn’t end it with “I love you” were enough to give me chills. It was the letter about the liquor. You said that I said I would send you anything you desired with the exception of contraband items and liquor. You said you commended my attitude and thought I was doing my part toward winning the war. But I don’t think you meant that, darling—as you wrote it. I don’t think you “commend” my attitude at all—I think you thought I was somewhat of a “prig.” I don’t recall what I said about the liquor— but I wasn’t trying to convey any emphatic attitude. … It wasn’t, darling, that I deliberately wished to sacrifice your desires for a viewpoint of mine to which I wanted stubbornly to hold—it wasn’t exactly that I was being “patriotic”—although I do claim to have some patriotism because I do sincerely believe we have something to show patriotism for in this U.S.A.—and, something, by the way, that I want to be preserved intact against your return. … I do so want you to understand about the liquor, dear—your letter was the first since you have been so far away that showed any displeasure (really) with me- and if you felt that I was being “small” when you wrote it—I know you’ll understand now. If you can only understand, darling, that I love you with all of me—I am yours completely—and I live only to please you. At present I am afraid for you—and yet courageous because of you. … Need I tell you that
I love you. Polly
June 24, 1944 Saturday night
Here I’ve been sitting scanning a map of England trying to decide upon where you were last stationed in England—because I don’t think you are there now. The fact that you said that the cooks sent cookies “down” to where you were probably had some significance—the only thing directly related to the map to that word would be the “South Downs” and that covers quite a bit of territory. Doubtless you were somewhere along that southern coast—maybe even on the “Isle of Wight.” Your Mom was here today and I think she said that she and your Dad had figured from something you said that you were at a place called “Whitechurch”—I noticed a place called “Christchurch” on the map —which is directly across the channel from Cherbourg. Just think—someplace at which I have been gazing on these maps is where you were and where you probably are now—and I don’t know it. You see, darling, we have quite a time with all our theories as to where you are—we do a lot of supposing but we are never sure about anything. However, you are all we can think of, so naturally we put all our effort into informing ourselves of your whereabouts. The other night I saw a picture in the newspaper of two soldiers sitting in a doorway on the road to Cherbourg. The one fellow seemed to resemble you but try as I did I couldn’t definitely make him look like you. That just “goes to show ya” what a state my mind is in- I peer at every picture of a soldier in keen anticipation of seeing your face for the sight of which I am so hungry. And still I wouldn’t want to see you in any battle scenes—I cannot bring myself to face the fact that you must fight. …
I adore you— Polly
July 4, 1944
This is Independence Day and Dee and I had our flags flying out in front of the house. Next year we will surely be able to enjoy and appreciate the day. Didn’t do much today—just took Dee for a short ride and bought her an ice cream cone—she certainly didn’t lose any time in learning to like those things. The headlines in the morning paper informed us that the Yank tanks in France were mired and the doughboys were reverting to 1918 tactics. … Of course, I am convinced that you are taking part in every operation I read of. I know that you can take care of yourself, darling—that you won’t take any unnecessary chances—and that God and His Blessed Mother are with you. If my love could keep you safe, honey—then you’d be well protected—you’d be the safest soldier over there. I love you with all my heart.
July 7, 1944
It’s nearly midnight and Dee just went to bed—which is a most unusual occurrence. But this was a very warm day and strangely enough it put our girl in a sleeping mood. Her “afternoon nap” lasted from 3:00 PM until 6:45 PM—the longest nap she has taken, I think, since she’s “been.” Naturally she didn’t want or need to go to bed so early tonight. She’ll be 18 months old tomorrow, darling—six more months until her second birthday—and you’ll be home by then—I hope and pray. I miss you so very much, sweetheart, and right now I’m just plain worried. If only we’d get a letter from you. The days seem so long when there is no word from you. While you are away, darling, the mailman has to be my ‘favorite guy’—but only because of the role he plays in relation to you.
I love you, Polly
July 8, 1944
This weather we’re having is plenty hot—but probably not half so hot as what you are going through—so we have no room at all to complain. I talked on the phone with your Mom this morning. We are both thinking constantly of you, darling, and trusting God that you are safe. So many people have received letters from France—and although it’s hard to just wait like this, we know we’ll hear soon. … I am wondering what you are doing at this moment while I am sitting here writing to you—probably ‘running around’ with the French women! Ah well, such is life! But you’ll be home soon and out of their clutches and once I get you here, darling, I will never let you out of my sight again. Honest, I won’t be too possessive, though.
I love you, Polly
July 11, 1944
The enclosed cartoons I cut from the morning paper—I thought they were cute and might stir up a few memories for you. “Skeezix” was home on furlough and he and his girl were married—if you haven’t been following the cartoon—stupid supposition, that you have been, huh, honey?—The enclosed strips were about their honeymoon days. … A couple of them reminded me of us. … As I write this, darling, the All-Star game is in progress—I wish as ardently as you do that you were here listening too—or even better that you were in Pittsburgh to see it tonight. The National League is ahead 4-1 in this 7th inning. … Roosevelt announced today that, although it is his desire to retire, he will be a “good soldier” and accept renomination. … No comment. … Tonight’s paper also carried the report of the new American “thrust” toward the communications center of St.-Lo. The last sentence in the column read, “American tanks are attacking on all sectors”—those words stand out for me, as though there are no other words on the whole page. … Oh my darling, it is torture to wait like this—I love you dearly—and I am afraid that I am not very brave. I try to be. There are times when I’m sure I have a “pretty good hold” on myself and then again I weaken—without trust in God’s goodness I don’t know how I could stand this waiting. I can think of nothing else—you are in my every thought and prayer. I know God will keep you safe, my dear—and I am ashamed of the few moments when that faith falters even slightly. I keep remembering the words you wrote…“God’s will be done”—and “A little while— —.” I keep thinking that in a “little while” all this anxiety will end —and we’ll have a letter from you and we’ll know that you are safe—then still another “little while” and this will all be over and you’ll be home again forever and life will be for us as we have planned and dreamed it will be. Maybe one or two details won’t be just as we planned—but the essence of the plan will be there—you and Dee and I will be together—and to me that is all that will ever matter. … The National League is really “going to town”—the score is now 7-1 darling. … I love you very much … we are all thinking of you constantly and offering our prayers for your safety—
I love you, I love you, I love you— Polly
(7-1 was the final score.)
July 26, 1944
Little news again today and still no letter from you. I just can’t understand why we haven’t heard from you—but that, I guess, is not for me to know. I must just wait and pray. All I desire is for your safety, darling, because I love you with all my heart. What you are going through must be terrible, dear—and all that is asked of me is that I have faith—so I’m sure I can do that. … Dee has developed a fondness for fig bars which I told her were the kind of cookies Daddy likes, so now she always refers to them as “Daddy’s cookies.” You know, darling, I believe she is beginning to understand about Daddy—and to realize that our life will begin when he comes home. I love you.
WASHINGTON DC AUG 6 AM 11:10
MRS. PAULINE A ELLIOTT
130 FAIRMONT AVENUE
THE SECRETARY OH WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR HUSBAND CORPORAL ERANK M ELLIOTT WAS KILLED IN ACTION ON SIX JUNE IN FRANCE LETTER FOLLOWS
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL
My father never came home. He died late in the day on D-day, on Omaha Beach near the bluff, as he and the men in his unit, part of the initial assault wave, prepared the way for the entry of the 2d Infantry Division. It was these men who, with their supplies, were later to establish the beachhead that would permit the Allies to penetrate Europe.
The scene is described in the following excerpt from “Blood and Sand,” a chapter in a publication by the survivors of the 741st Tank Battalion.
“June 6, 1944: The men chatted seriously, drank black coffee, smoked cigarette after cigarette, thought of home, prayed silently.” They were shortly to leave the security of the landing craft and land on Normandy Beach. “This was to be their first action with the enemy; this was the day for which they had trained long, hard months. It was little wonder that they were tense, nervous, afraid. …
“Dawn broke on D-Day with an intense bombardment by big naval and rocket guns. … The Germans had fortified this beach well and just how effective was our fire no one could immediately surmise.
“At H-Hour most of A Company had landed successfully. Two tanks left the LCT too soon and sank. Two more were blown up while yet on the landing craft.” Those that landed “had the difficult job of removing from the sand hundreds of mines and obstacles which would prevent landing craft from beaching soundly. … The men worked feverishly and efficiently with utter disregard for personal safety. Smooth operation was hampered by the dead bodies which lay about all over the beach. Frequently crews had to pull bodies from their path, and proceed.”
I recently learned that my father’s tank was one which did not make it to the beach and although two men were badly injured, they all helped each other swim to shore. Medics assisted the injured men while the others continued to fight on the beach. My father was hit that afternoon by a bomb from a German plane. I was told by a surviving comrade that his body was mutilated. I hope the end came quickly.
He is buried in the American Military Cemetery of St.-Laurent-sur-Mer, on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach, under one of thousands of white crosses marking the graves of hopeful young men. My mother chose to leave his remains there in France.
All the letters he received from my mother were lost, presumably being with him at the time of his death. None of his personal effects were returned. The letters published here came back unopened, undelivered, and marked “deceased.”
My mother never remarried, although she had several opportunities to do so. Heartache and sadness, hard work and worry, punctuated by a few moments of humor in the company of friends and family, characterized the rest of her life. She made the best of her life, but she never could forget her first and lasting love. How was she to know in 1944 that their”… again a little while …” would be a lifetime? She developed gastric cancer, which I am convinced was a result of too many years of pain at the core of her being, and passed to share eternity with him in 1990, at the age of seventy.
I didn’t marry the only man I ever loved, fearing that he, too, would somehow die and leave me and I would go through the same pain my mother did. I later experienced two unsuccessful marriages. Having never known the affirmation of my father’s or any man’s love for a sustained period of time as a child, I have always found it difficult to believe that any man could love me.
We were, all three, casualties of war.