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Local Profiles Series: Carl Clewlow

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Now, a story about an ordinary man who has lived an extraordinary life.  San Diego resident Carl Clewlow grew up in Indiana, went to Business College and fought in World War II.  Accomplishments by any standard, but Carl Clewlow has done so much more in his 90 years.  In fact – like the fictional Forrest Gump – he’s been hovering close to some of America’s most historic figures. In this first-in-a-series of local profiles, reporter Joanne Faryon introduces us to Carl Clewlow.

Clewlow: “This is Carl Clewlow. I live in Carmel Valley at the present time in California, but I lived most of my life in Falls Church Virginia, just seven miles outside of Washington. D.C.”

Carl Clewlow sits with military posture on a chair in his living room, able to recount stories of his past with detail so vivid it’s difficult to believe his memories stretch decades. He is recording them now, for his grown children. Carl reads from the introduction he has written.

Clewlow: “While I am no Mark Twain or any other journalist of note, it has been interesting to me to go through my notes and to put in print some of the things which reside in my notes and my memories.”

But Carl begins his adult life in complete Mark Twain fashion --on a Riverboat on the Ohio River, a cub pilot looking for adventure. He plays sax in a dance band .

A pit-stop in Cincinnati introduces him to Dee Dee von Kappelhoff, who later becomes known as Doris Day.

When Carl goes to Washington DC for his first civil service job, a chance meeting on the street leads him to his first job for his first president. He will help set up the country’s first Department of Defense, under President Harry S. Truman.

Truman: “On this army day, freedom loving men all over the world rise with us to salute our fighting men and devoted woman of the army….”

Carl’s long career as a Washington insider begins. He meets Truman in 1950, after an assassination attempt.

Clewlow: “Some Cubans tried to kill him, they opened fire on his house and he was out walking that day and I had left early that day myself and Mr. Truman said, ‘You’re leaving a little early today, aren’t you,’ and that was my first meeting with a president.”

For the next several years Carl held high ranking positions in the department of defense. And he’s had a first-hand look inside the Oval office.

Clewlow: “I got to know Mr. Johnson, I knew Mr. Kennedy ever so slightly. He didn’t last long after I met him, he went very fast.”

In fact, the day John F. Kennedy was shot, Carl rushed to the office of the head of the Secret Service, who decides to stay in Washington that day, rather than travel to Dallas. Carl tries to console an inconsolable man. He travels the world on government business many times. In Vietnam, a bomb blast misses the bed he is sleeping in by a couple hundred yards -- a near miss, he calls it. 

Nixon: “Good evening, I have asked for this time tonight in order to announce my answer for house judiciary committee subpoena for additional Watergate tapes.”

Carl remembers Richard Nixon well. He has dinner at the Watergate Hotel with friends the night of the break-in. Carl meets Gerald Ford through an old friend and the first time he sees Jimmy Carter, he’s in the Presidential Rose Garden.

Today, Carl lives in a San Diego suburb, with Bea, his wife of 65 years. His main job now is caretaker to Bea who’s had failing health. When Carl remembers the first time he saw Bea at a dance it is clear she is the love of his life. There is light in his eyes and a change in his posture.

Clewlow: “I went to Washington and went back to Evansville every chance I got just to see her.”

Carl’s stories are endless. They are captivating and curious and compelling.

He’s asked how he feels about meeting seven Presidents, witnessing history in such a personal way. He chalks it up to fluke, luck, good fortune.

Clelow “It’s one of those things that can best be described as serendipity, where events take place which have no relevance to what you’re doing but turn out to be something far better that what you hoped for.”

For KPBS news, I’m Joanne Faryon

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