The relationship between Polk and pilot Robert Morgan was promoted as part of the five-month war bond tour that began after the Memphis Belle airplane, named in Polk’s honor, completed 25 missions in May 1943.
Although Polk broke off their engagement, the two saw the tour through to the end, according to The Commercial Appeal.
Polk had telephoned Morgan in Denver when “some girl answered the telephone,” Polk said in an interview with the newspaper in 1989, a year before she died of lung cancer. “That was on a Saturday. I mailed his engagement ring to his father the following Monday.”
Morgan had been an ardent suitor, flying his plane to buzz Polk awake in the mornings and sending love letters, flowers and gifts.
“I was a real romantic, riding on cloud nine. Any young girl likes all the attention, the flowers, the telegrams, the phone calls and gifts,” Polk said.
When she realized that, despite his attentions, her boyfriend was a womanizer, Polk broke off the engagement but agreed to continue the charade as part of the national tour orchestrated by the publicity division of the War Department.
Afterward, Polk resumed her education, majoring in chemistry and biology at Southwestern at Memphis, now Rhodes College.
She worked briefly as an airline stewardess but struggled with alcoholism and was fired for her drinking. An inheritance from her father supported her and she eventually sought treatment at a Texas sanitarium, joining Alcoholics Anonymous and saying her newfound sobriety was “the happiest time of my life.”
She remained friends with Morgan, who married six times before his death in 2004.
The Memphis Belle airplane remained in Memphis for almost 60 years before the U.S. Air Force restored it and made it an exhibit in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.
Dr. Harry Friedman, a Memphis neurosurgeon who co-authored the 2008 book Memphis Belle – Dispelling The Myths, said Polk and Morgan “were both stalwart people.”
“They put their best foot forward and they always did what they thought was best for each other. They remained friends up until the day she died.”
Sculptor Andrea Luger’s statue of Polk looking skyward with a hand shielding her eyes will be placed in Overton Park next to the Doughboy statue. A relief sculpture of the airplane and crewmembers who took part in the war bond tour will be mounted with the statue in a limestone base and installed in a ceremony scheduled for Oct. 23.
Lugar’s husband, Larry Lugar, will cast the clay sculpture in bronze.
He said the story of Polk, her brave pilot and their sacrifices in wartime “bring home a sense of history, ideas, camaraderie, patriotism and courage.”
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com
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