What’s in your family’s past that you have never been able to explain? I would be willing to bet that there is, at least, one mystery that you would like to solve.
So, hop in your Marty McFly (Back to the Future) DeLorean Time Machine, albeit an easy chair and laptop, and get to work. Why you may become so excited about your revelations that you’ll be motivated to write a book. Worked for me. In fact, my detective work led to two novels.
Discovery is so cool, especially when you have a vested interest. One seemingly meaningless document took me to a place I knew nothing about and revealed a segment of Charlie Polk’s life of which I only had minuscule information. The place – West Point, Virginia. For the life of me, I don’t know how or why that piece of paper survived for 63 years. Found it in an old box of photos that belonged to my grandmother. Clues. Just like a mystery novel.
Last night, a friend asked me to help her learn more about her family. But she had no idea where or how to start her search. The simple answer, start with what you know.
Case in point. I knew, based on conversations with my grandmother, that Charles Polk, Jr. worked at hard labor, building Virginia roads after he graduated from high school. I also knew or had been told, that he left his class ring in a restroom at a service station during that time. That’s it. Nothing more.
Then I found a 1953 Reimbursement Voucher, which clarified my grandmother’s claims and added more vital layers of information.
Oh, my gosh. Check out those meal prices. About three bucks per day. Hotel rates? $2.50 per day.
What about lodging at the West Point Hotel? Googled the heck out of it and came up with nada. But there is a West Point, Virginia and that’s when I came across a web page featuring town history and a photograph of the hotel that was torn down years ago.
In a previous article, I talked about another valuable piece of info uncovered on the document. His job for the Virginia Highway Department was not nearly so exciting as advertised by his mother. Instead of road builder, he was a car counter. That was before computers when counting was handled manually. Hashmarks on a clipboard.
Also, in the box of family memorabilia was a stack of letters from Charlie’s friends, most of them girls, and one who made her home in, you guessed it, West Point, Virginia. In one of her letters, she talks about working as a waitress at the West Point Hotel Diner, which is where their summer romance began.
Another group of letters from a gal named Roxanne from New Bern, NC during the USMC years. Google Maps to the rescue. New Bern is just 18.6 miles away from the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, SC. Roxanne’s address was in her letter so; I looked it up on Zillow. House is still there. Beautiful pic. What the heck? Let’s try ancestry.com. Found a census record for Roxanne and discovered that she was only 14 years old and dating a Marine. What? Didn’t include the rest of what I found, but I traced Roxanne all the way to Arkansas, where she became a prominent socialite. Died a few years ago.
The preceding is just a sampling of the clues that helped me unravel some mysteries about my family’s past and helped me to become a time traveler. All of it from my living room chair in Alabama, Starting in the small town of Strasburg in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and then 17,000 miles away to Iwakuni, Japan. All the while, experiencing the way it was in 1953 to 1955.
I am happy to report that at no time in my time traveling did I encounter a bully named Biff.
Hop in your DeLorean and get to work. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.
You can read about my family mystery, Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare. And if you would be so kind and like the book, then leave a review.
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.
West Point Hotel, VA
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.
Ten reasons to read my book. Now there’s a challenge. For me. Not you. Every author struggles with the question, “Who would want to read my book?” Then there’s that annoying inner voice that yells, “Nobody!” Ouch.
My best friend recently declared my reader worthiness on Facebook. “He is one of the most Prolific Writers of the 21st Century. If you want a Great Read… Order all his Books.” Thanks, Kurt. Wish everybody felt that way.
Most people have no interest in a book about the death of a loved one. Morbid. Sad. Depressing. I get it.
“The hero of the story gets killed mid-way through the story?” Yep.
But…that’s life. The way it really is. Happy endings are what we make of life’s gut blows.
Farewell PFC POLK is a celebration of that mysterious inner strength of the human spirit that rises above tragedy and rebuilds…finds a way…wins.
So, then, here are my ten reasons for reading my book:
You will definitely feel something. Heck, I cried when I wrote it. I also laughed. My favorite moments of writing are the ones that move me. That’s when I know that a scene has power.
2. This story will inspire you. There is life after the painful loss of a child. When buried in a crisis it’s difficult if not impossible to see a positive outcome. The mountain of pain is too high..the floodwaters of despair are too deep. But, one day, we find ourselves on the other side of the mountain beside still waters where faith and hope are restored.
3. It’s a beautiful love story. Yes, the hero of the story has a major love interest. Buddy Polk meets and falls in love with Sally Duffy in the summer of ’53. But, Sally, follows her head and not her heart and breaks off the romance at summer’s end. Buddy is so devastated by the experience that he joins the United States Marine Corps.
4. It’s a story about faith lost and regained. Buddy’s mom was the family’s spiritual rock. Her unshakable faith was brutally shaken to the point of nonexistence, and she feared that it was lost forever. In the midst of her hopelessness, she is confronted by an unlikely source which helps her to find her way back. With renewed faith comes hope.
5. It’s a mystery. The official Marine Corps report stated that PFC Charles Polk was accidentally killed by his best friend. But there are lingering questions about the authenticity of that friendship and the circumstances surrounding the death which are detailed in the book. I would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Was his death accidental or the result of a sinister plot to murder?
6. It’s based on a true story. Truer than not. Like I said in a previous post, “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
7. The book deals with some of life’s greatest questions. “Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow it? Is our future revealed in our dreams?”
8. The book is historical fiction. Farewell PFC POLK is set in the 1950s, and although not intended as such it does feature a plentiful supply of 50s trivia. The places, fashions, songs, movies, and more are spot on. In one scene, Sally Duffy is unhappy because she has to pay more than 20 cents for a gallon of gas. Later, she spends $20 for an entire week at the Hotel Strasburg.
9. It’s a story with plenty of humor. One of my favorite scenes to write was when Buddy goes to boot camp. Drill Instructors aren’t particularly funny when you’re going through it but, after the fact, they’re a hoot. With a background in writing comedy routines for a popular radio program (The Burt and Kurt Show) that I co-hosted for more than 40 years, I can’t help but add some comedic relief.
10. The story is a gripping drama and powerful story told in my wholesome writing style. In other words, no smut, no filthy language, and no gore.
There. I’ve done it. 10 Reasons You Should Read Farewell PFC POLK. Please add my novel to your To-Read list and if you like it, a review would be greatly appreciated.
And…I’ve got some good news. For a limited time, I have lowered the price of the eBook to just 99 cents. The print edition is also available for $9.93. Both versions are available here: Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare.
You see it all the time – the “must read” book. Sometimes that overused tagline turns out to be true. But as for me, my new novel, Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare, was a “must write.”
For just about as long as I can remember, Charlie Polk’s story has been in my head, and now that it’s on paper the saga is firmly entrenched in my heart and soul.
Another common tagline is “based on a true story.” The only thing that separates Farewell PFC POLK from “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is my concern for the players in this story who are still living. Therefore, I invoked the old Dragnet disclaimer, “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent?”
Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare
Charlie, Uncle Buddy as I knew him, was the hero of the family. I would have little recollection of him had my family not held him is such high regard. On May 28, 1955, two days shy of his 20th birthday, the U.S. Marine Corps Military Policeman was accidentally shot and killed by his best friend.
I was 7-years-old when it happened, and I was ill-prepared for my family’s reaction to the crisis. My grandmother, the family’s rock of faith, and my best friend was sidelined and catapulted into such a severe depression that I feared she would never recover. My grandfather blamed himself for the tragedy. He thought God was punishing him for his sins. My mother was so overwhelmed with grief at the loss of her brother that she sought medical help.
It would be an understatement to say that the summer of ’55 was miserable. The dark cloud that had engulfed my family seemed endless and left me to wonder if we would ever return to the joy of the past.
But…life goes on, and the human spirit does rise above the devastating consequences of the death of a loved one. The turning point came during a conversation between my grandmother and me. I won’t give it away here, but that discussion is detailed in the book.
In death, Buddy Polk became bigger than life. More handsome, more moral, more…perfect. His picture hung on the wall over the TV in my grandparent’s living room. All that was missing was his autograph, befitting the iconic pedestal upon which he had been placed.
He became the standard by which my life was to be measured. Buddy did it this way or that way. “Your Uncle Buddy would never have done that.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was no longer Richard Weirich. To be accepted, or so I thought, was to become Charles Fletcher Polk.
To be clear, I have never resented that expectation because he truly was a great person, And since his life has so much to do with my life, I decided that it was time to get to know him better. That’s why I researched and then wrote, Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare.
This touching, heartwarming, and powerful story is now available and you can get it here. And if you like it, please do me the honor of sharing a review.
Book II from IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE is here!
Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare opens in 1945 with a troubling nightmare on Charles Polk, Jr.’s 9th birthday.
There was that dream again. Buddy sat up in his bed and looked around the room for more pictures like those still fresh on his mind. Black and gray images depicting deep emotions of sorrow, pain, shock and desperation. People he knew: crying, moaning, screaming. There were strangers among them: motionless, speechless, sad. And the hundreds of black flowers on a bed of stars, stripes, and brass buttons made him feel trapped, isolated, helpless, and afraid.
My new novel picks up the story of Charlie and Mable Polk, 35 years after the end of Book I, IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE: Faith Conquers Fear. The flame of love as depicted in the first book was long gone by the time Charles, Jr. hit his senior year in high school.
Aging does more to a married couple than just alter physical appearance. Beyond the visible wrinkles…bulging waistlines, graying hair, and sagging skin are internal changes evidenced by altered personalities, irascible dispositions, and negative attitudes. Romantic closeness and intimacy are replaced by enmity, strife, and distance.
As their love faded, Charlie Jr.’s romantic star was rising, with not just one but three girls longing for his undivided affection. There was Bobbie Jean Beeler, the nurse.
She could have kicked herself for saying something so foolish. “I am so sorry. I should never have said that. It’s just that…I’m crazy about you. See what you do to me? You make me act all stupid. I’m so into you that, even when I’m with Cliff, I pretend it’s you. Look, I’ve said enough, more than enough.”
Roxanne Smitherman, a student from New Bern, NC, nearly captured his heart, until he found out something about her that instantly cooled their relationship. I’m not going to give away what happened but here’s a clue.
About a quarter way through the movie, Roxanne took Buddy’s hand and held it tightly. He was pleased with what he perceived as a demonstration of affection. But at the halfway point, Mrs. Smitherman grabbed his other hand, and as the tension built in the Hitchcock thriller, the hand squeezing intensified.
Then there was Sally Duffy, a pretty waitress from West Point, Virginia that swept him off his feet. The feeling was mutual, well, sort of.
Sally’s icy stare melted. She had that dear-in-the-headlights look. Stunned, motionless, silent. Tears began to stream down her cheeks and then slowly she walked toward him, threw her arms around him and hugged him with all her might. Finally, she allowed her eyes to meet his and then she kissed him, softly at first and then passionately. After a moment, that Buddy believed was pure bliss, she pushed him away. “I’ve got to go,” she said, unable to stop crying. And then she walked away and never looked back.
So, what do you do when you get jilted? I don’t know about you, but Charles answered that question by joining the Marines. He enlisted on the Buddy Program, which meant that he and his best friend from high school, Donnie Turner, went through Boot Camp together.
Donnie glanced at Buddy to see how he was holding up under the pressure, which resulted in an angry drill instructor yelling within an inch of Donnie’s face. “Did I tell you to turn your head?”
“No, sir,” yelled Donnie.
“Will it happen again?”
“Was it a stupid thing to do?”
“So, you’re stupid.”
“You’re not stupid?”
“When I get finished with you, you’re gonna be a genius. Ain’t that right?”
“Yes, sir.” ”
What are you gonna be?”
“A genius, sir.”
“Right now, what are you?”
“I can’t hear you.”
“Stupid, sir,” yelled Donnie, louder than before.
Just wanted you to know that there’s more to this story than just tears. It is a very emotional story but there’s plenty of humor interspersed through the narrative.
Two days before his 20th birthday, Charles (aka Buddy) was accidentally killed by his best friend, or at least, according the official Marine Corps report. But is that what really happened? Does a best friend try to get his pal fired from his job, force himself on his girlfriend, and then lie about the circumstances of his death? Sally didn’t think so and with good reason. Don’t want to give that away either.
PFC Charles F. Polk
There’s no greater pain for a parent than the loss of a child. The tragedy catapulted his mother into deep depression and caused her to lose the spiritual strength upon which her family had always relied. Her faith failed and she feared she would never get it back.
How do you put your life back together after losing your greatest earthly treasure? Therein lies the reason for the story because there is life after the death of a loved one. You can and you will experience joy and happiness again. Mable Polk’s faith did return with a little help from an unlikely source.
Farewell PFC Polk: The End of a Nightmare is based on a true story. I should know. I was there.
Although I was 7-years-old when he died, my family kept his memory alive and used his life as the standard to which I should aspire. This book is also dedicated to my grandparents, Mable and Charlie Polk, who suffered the unfathomable pain of losing a child. Their climb from the pit of despair taught me that life isn’t always fair and tragedies don’t always have happy endings. But where there is faith there is always hope.
This book is not about a popular subject but it is something that all of us either have dealt with or will face in the future. This is not a counseling book or a how-to guide on how to survive after the death of a loved one. It’s just a story of what can be…when we have faith.
You can get your copy of Farewell PFC POLK in print or eBook formats from most of your favorite online retailers.
Click below to BUY NOW!
If you like the book then I would really appreciate a review at Amazon.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post. Have an awesome day.
Frequently, when making an online purchase or filling out a web form, I am required to give my birthdate. Then there is that menacing dropdown box listing all the years. Really? Keep scrolling down…and scrolling…and scrolling. There it is, 1947, near the bottom of the chart.
Wow. The 40’s. I’ve never considered myself a child of the 1940’s. Not even a child of the 50’s. Throw out the history book. Don’t need one. I was there.
My new novel, After the Storm, is set in the first half of the 1950’s, which has required considerable era related research. The exercise has helped bring to mind some of what I was exposed to in my earliest years.
My first grade class (1954) was one of the first to be introduced to the polio vaccine. We were taken by school bus to Winchester, VA where we all were inoculated for protection from a disease that had reached epidemic proportions among children. My brother, Gary, was one of the casualties at age five.
My first recollection of anything related to politics was a President named Eisenhower. Once, when visiting a friend in Middletown, VA…the President’s motorcade came through the town and I recall sitting on the front porch, sipping on a RC Cola, awaiting his arrival. My friend preferred warm sodas. They were more suited to loud belching, which I suppose is what we were doing as the entourage passed by. I know. Weird. Maybe that’s why I recall so little about the 50’s.
You think that was strange? Check this out. A popular kid’s show at the time was Winky Dink and You. Aired from ’53 to ’57. What I remember most about that show was the “magic drawing screen.” It was a sheet of plastic that attached to the TV screen on which you could draw with crayons. There would be pictures that appeared in the TV show that you could trace and then you were given assignments to add other elements, like eyes, or a nose, or leaves on a tree. By today’s high tech standards Winky Dink was pretty rinky dink, but it was one of my favorite toys. To be fair, Bill Gates had high praise for the program. It was the first ever interactive TV show.
I love the research capabilities of the internet. Although I faintly remember the show, I now know that I watched it on Saturday mornings on CBS at 10:30. And this is what it looked like:
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Davey Crockett Lunchbox
Yes, we had TV back then. Other popular kid shows included: Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Davey Crocket, Lassie, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Annie Oakley, Howdy Doody, The Pinky Lee Show, and Soupy Sales.
Yep, loved them all. Even had my own Davey Crocket lunch box and coon skin cap.
So, for those of you who have nothing better to do, I’m going to take you back in time, back to my earliest years (simpler times) and the TV I watched when I was 6 and 7 years old. Meanwhile, have a great day IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE.
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