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.
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
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.