Last Letter Home

Good morning, it’s Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Seventy-six years ago today, a 24-year-old U.S. soldier far from home wrote a letter to his wife, Pauline, who was back in New Castle, Pa. His name was Frank M. Elliott and he served with Company A of the U.S. Army’s 741st Tank Battalion. He was writing from England where his unit was stationed — but not for long.

Less than 10 days from the Normandy invasion, the American fighting men knew that moment was imminent. They didn’t know exactly where or when — and wouldn’t have revealed those details in their letters anyway — but they were anticipating rough action, and soon. On this date, however, Frank’s thoughts were with the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, DeRonda. The child’s mother had said in a previous letter that she was thinking of taking the little girl to the movies. Frank was wishing he could be there for that occasion.

I’ll warn you in advance that it’s not a story with a happy ending.

Frank Elliott was a Georgetown University senior when he enlisted in 1943, one of 16 million American men who would wear the uniform of the U.S. armed forces during World War II.

His wartime love letters to Pauline, whom he called “Polly,” only surfaced in 1993, three years after her death, when their daughter could finally bring herself to read them.

All of them are poignant, but the one written 76 years ago today moved DeRonda deeply. “Darn it, darling, I would certainly like to be on hand when Dee goes to see her first movie,” Frank wrote.

“Take her to Youngstown, Pittsburgh or Cleveland to one of those theaters with a long impressive lobby with candy counters and attractive posters,” he added. “I’ll bet she will love it. Don’t postpone her enjoyment until I come home, but let me know how she reacts to all the glamour of Hollywood’s productions. Love, Frank.”

On June 5, 1944, Polly wrote back to tell her young husband that she was sitting at their kitchen table thinking of him while looking out on a “truly silvery, full moon.”

“It’s beautiful, dear — really beautiful — and it has succeeded in making me very sentimental,” she wrote. “The sight of that shining up there — the moon that shines on you, too — fills me with romance … and even as it now increases that inescapable loneliness, it also increases my confidence in the future. I truly love you.”

A day later, she wrote: “Well…‘D-Day’ has finally arrived. 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.”

Polly Elliott then referred to the letter Frank had written her four weeks earlier, in which he also discussed the impending invasion and his own mortality in the context of his religious faith. He told her of a quarterback in his high school football playing days, who qualified pre-game prayers with the phrase “Not my will, God, but Thine.”

His young wife took solace in these words, at least she did at the time, and said so in her D-Day letter. “You are the one who is making all the sacrifices,” she wrote, “and yet you are the one who could find the proper words to give us both strength.”

Cpl. Elliott would never receive his wife’s beautiful letter. He never made it alive off the beach in Normandy.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the incalculable loss felt by Polly and Dee and how Frank’s death cast a shadow that lasted for a lifetime. Two lifetimes, actually.

 

%d bloggers like this: