While browsing at Barnes & Noble in the Lehigh Valley Mall recently, I noticed the new biography Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda.
It reminded me of a World War II veteran I interviewed in 1999 for The Morning Call’s special Veterans Day section, War Stories of the Century – Robert A. Carl of Salisbury Township, a retired captain in the Navy Reserve. Here’s the story: http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-robertcarl,0,5355839.story
Bob, who grew up in Pottsville and served in the Merchant Marine and later in the Navy during the war, told me that he had met T.E. Lawrence in New York. It was shortly before the legendary British World War I soldier was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1935. I noted the encounter in the epilogue of Bob’s story.
Seeing Korda’s book got me wondering about the circumstances of Bob’s meeting with Lawrence. So yesterday I rooted around in the shoebox where I keep my microcassette interviews and fished out the one with Bob. (I don’t use tapes anymore. I have a digital recorder now, a Sony ICD-SX700. It’s far more efficient and trustworthy.)
On the flip side of the tape, near the end of our chat, Bob says: “When we were in New York in 1934 or ’35, my father introduced me to probably the most fascinating man, the most educated man I ever met. That was Lawrence of Arabia. He was in a group, and my father said, ‘This is Lawrence of Arabia.’ ”
Well, guess what? I didn’t ask the obvious question: How did he and his father happen to be in the same place as Lawrence?
Bob had told me that his father was a businessman – he owned a timber operation – so it could have been a business trip on which the senior Carl took his boy along. I listened to the rest of the tape to see if we got back to Lawrence later on, but we didn’t. It was a missed opportunity to get an interesting historical nugget.
Coincidentally, one of Bob’s favorite topics was English history, something he lectured on at colleges. Meeting Lawrence was a high point of his life. “I would’ve loved it if he had lived and I had gotten a chance to talk to him,” Bob said on the tape.
Here’s a footnote: Bob and I had an improbable connection.
A prolific writer, he published a book, Men of the Sea, in 1992, had a column in the Pottsville Republican at the time we met, and before that had a war stories feature in the old Bethlehem Globe-Times.
One of the veterans he interviewed for the Globe-Times was Lynn Bedics, the Army nurse who tended to my cousin Nicky Venditti as he lay dying in an evacuation hospital in Vietnam in 1969. Lynn lives in my Allentown neighborhood and appears in my as-yet unpublished book about Nicky, Quiet Man Rising: A Soldier’s Life and Death in Vietnam. http://www.davidvenditta.com/
I regret having no contact with Bob after 1999. He died in 2002.
But his meeting with Lawrence of Arabia lives in my memory as yet another extraordinary example of how ordinary people connect with history.