Characters in stories must be believable. Even amazing superheroes have flaws and weaknesses.
Case in point…Kryptonite and Lois Lane make Superman weak and stupid. So, when I decided to write a book about my childhood hero, I was determined to find the holes in his perfection.
The star of Farewell PFC POLK is Charles F. Polk, Jr., my Uncle Buddy. He died when I was 7-years-old, which means that I have little recall of the actual man. Most of what I know about him was advanced by my family, the best PR firm ever.
Did I want to risk knocking him off that pedestal? Not at all. But I did want to know him better and answer the question, “Was he that good?”
So I began my research without the benefit of a single living family member to assist. Fortunately, my grandmother left behind a trunk filled with Charles Polk memorabilia, and the United States Marine Corps was wonderfully forthcoming with detailed records of Buddy’s military service.
As with any tragedy some facts are misunderstood, erroneously reported, or misrepresented. The first myth-buster was that he was accidentally killed by his best friend in Korea. In fact, PFC Polk was killed in Japan which was revealed in several documents.
My grandmother often talked about Buddy’s job out of high school when he worked for the Virginia Highway Department. She was persuaded that he worked on the roads doing heavy labor. In reality, he spent the summer of ’53 sitting along Virginia roads in a chair, counting vehicles. His job title is listed in the travel reimbursement request form below.
Armed with that simple document from 1953, I uncovered a photo of the hotel (no longer exists) in which he stayed and where he met the love of his life, that is, in the hotel dining room.
To be clear, I don’t believe for an instant that Buddy’s mother lied about details of his life away from home. Just like most parents, she was left out of the loop. Parents have two ways of keeping up with their children. Eavesdropping on their conversations with their friends (not always intentional) and monitoring Facebook (not an option in the 1950s).
One tale that was often repeated was an incident in which Charles was reprimanded by a Marine Corps officer for carrying a New Testament in his shirt pocket. The miniature Bible was in his personal effects and mentioned by him in a letter to a girlfriend.
Buddy Polk was strikingly handsome, and blessed with movie star good looks. Again, it was his mother who advanced the story that he had a bunch of girls after him. Was that true? Judging from numerous letters from multiple love interests the answer to the question is a resounding “yes.”
Letters from friends were a great resource for time, places, activities, his thoughts, and key players in his story. Judging from the testimonials in those letters it was clear that he was perceived as a “good guy.”
In researching the letter writing of a girl named, Roxanne, who was madly in love with him, I unveiled a shocker. The girl from New Bern, North Carolina, was only 14 years old. They met when Buddy was stationed at Cherry Point at a nearby beach. And they dated (maybe only once). After his death, Roxanne paid a visit to my grandmother who would have had no idea that the girl was so young. She thought that it was strange that her daddy drove her to Virginia all the way from North Carolina. Knowing Mable Polk as I did, she would not have been happy to learn that her 19 year-old-son had a 14-year-old girlfriend. But then again, the more I studied the letters, the better I was able to understand the relationship. She was into him. He was just nice to her, you know, the good guy thing. Didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
His real love interest was Sally Duffy, a girl that he had met while working for the state in ’53. The letters revealed that their love was rekindled to the point of thoughts of matrimony.
Conclusion: After a ton of research, digging through family and military records, tracing the paper trail of his letters, and essential data uncovered through ancestry.com…Charles Polk, Jr., really was that good.
If you get around to reading my novel, and I hope that you will, please be so kind as to share a review. You can get Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare here.