Frank’s story is that of an ordinary young man caught up in extraordinary events. Forty-five years ago Frank came back to Alabama accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy. He was about to serve two years for a theft he did not commit. Frank served his time, earned a pardon, moved to Texas, and lived the life of a solid citizen; he left his past behind. But the past he was leaving would not let go. Frank was born into the tumult of history, and up until he’d turned twenty-one history hadn’t let him alone.
In 1954 Frank’s father witnessed the murder of Alabama Attorney General-elect Albert Patterson, then was killed after testifying to what he saw. Less than a decade later Frank saw Lee Harvey Oswald fleeing the scene after the murder of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit. Remembering his father’s fate, Frank walked away.
In the years between the two assassinations Frank worked in the circus, ran moonshine, and became a U.S. Marine. At different times he found himself in Florida, Oklahoma, and on a U.S. Navy ship off Cuba’s coast.
With a foreword by former Alabama Governor John Patterson, Frank’s book, “Touched by Fire,” recounts an impoverished boyhood in the South after World War II. Born into a family of southern migrant workers, Frank grew up picking cotton, and grabbing what little education he could. Frank’s life ran in strange parallels with the more public career of John Patterson, so much so that a newspaper article about their first meeting was headlined: “Bound by Blood.” Frank’s father had witnessed John’s father’s death. John Patterson was the last man to talk to Frank’s father alive. Frank ran Alabama moonshine while John Patterson was attorney general.
As governor John became friends with JFK, and signed off on the participation of the Alabama Air National Guard in the Bay of Pigs. Frank’s ship sailed beneath the Alabama bombers. Two years later Frank was in Dallas when Kennedy was killed.
Yet John and Frank never met until 2003. That year they exchanged letters, then visited. Since then they have become fast friends. John has encouraged Frank’s book project, contributing the foreword. Former Columbus Ledger-Enquirer city editor Harry Franklin has called the book a “remarkable story.” Famed crime novelist, Ace Atkins, has praised it as “a true American tragedy.” In Atkins’s last novel, “Wicked City,” one of the leading characters is based on Frank’s murdered father.
“Touched by Fire” is history through the eyes of an American everyman. It is a story that teaches us the heroism of survival and hope. It is a lesson we could all use in these difficult times.