- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - As he removed the aged pages from the red, white and blue-bordered parcels, Richard Petty would create stories in his mind based off the old notes.

“I’d read a letter and honestly it would end, and I could never find the other letter to pick it (back) up,” Petty said. “It was like a book. I wanted to be like, ‘Write me back! Write me back!’”

Petty would routinely sort through the box of World War II era letters and photographs that sat in a box in his Anderson home. But two years after buying a storage locker that included albums of the pictures, letters and newspaper clippings, he and his wife, Amy, finally tracked down relatives of the author.

Now Richmond resident Greg Frolke has new pieces of family history to examine.

“We have no idea how it got there in the first place,” Frolke, 64, said.

Most of the letters were addressed to his grandparents and written by his father, Darrell, when he was stationed at an Air Force base in England during World War II. The photos are mostly of Darrell, his parents and extended family from the 1940s and earlier. The family has traced some of the items back to at least World War I.

“It was obvious he really liked the letters because the few I read he’d keep saying, ‘Keep sending the letters ‘cause it means a lot every time I get one,’” Frolke said.

Petty presented the albums to Frolke two weeks ago after years of searching for the proper owners.

Petty purchases abandoned storage units to sell or auction off items of value inside, and he frequently finds boxes of old family photos, which he ends up keeping. But when he bought a unit in Richmond, the letters and newspaper clippings offered clues to the family in the photos.

Finally, Amy Petty got in touch with Frolke’s wife, Debbie, on Facebook.

“When they finally got ahold of us, it was like, ‘I wonder what (the items) are and how they got wherever they were,” Greg Frolke said.

Frolke believes the storage unit contained things that belonged to his grandparents, but he has no idea how they got there. He doesn’t know if his father was aware of the albums’ existence before his death in 2009.

Growing up, Frolke heard stories of his father’s service, including how an airplane crashed near him during lunch on his first day at the base or how the military messed up his orders.

Frolke said the base in England wasn’t expecting his father and didn’t have work he was trained to do, but they found tasks for him anyway.

One of his jobs was to warm up airplanes for the pilots, but one morning someone didn’t check the brakes or made some sort of error.

When Darrell started the aircraft, it started moving and he couldn’t get it to stop. The end result was an airplane with a missing wing.

“He said, ‘Well if I’d been a pilot, I would have been court-martialed, but they knew I knew nothing about driving it, so they didn’t do anything,’” Frolke said.

As Frolke makes his way through the albums, the letters offer a fresh look at his father’s life during the war.

He’s been posting the photos on his Facebook and the page for Bradford, Ohio, where his family is from. He wants more information about the people in the pictures so he’s getting together with his cousin soon to try to sort through the mementos.

Frolke is still figuring out how to preserve the newly discovered pieces of family history, especially since he’s the last member of his father’s lineage.

“Don’t put it in a storage unit,” Petty said jokingly. “I don’t want to end up with it again.”

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin, https://bit.ly/2seJNK1

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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