DeKALB – Fred Carlson never talked much about the scar from the wound he suffered during World War I.
In fact, Carlson hardly ever discussed his brief service in the U.S. Army or his experience fighting “over there” until a young man named Angelo Nicolosi approached him on Oct. 15, 1971.
“I do remember that day real, real vividly,” Nicolosi said.
Nicolosi, who was a 21-year-old political science student at Northern Illinois University at the time, set out to record interviews with two veterans of World War I: Carlson and R.C. Anderson, both of DeKalb.
The interviews represent recorded history that cannot be repeated by the living: The last combat veterans of “The Great War” – American army veteran Frank Buckles and Claude Choules, who served with the British navy – both died at age 110 in 2011.
In the interview, Carlson talked about being the first one shot in his troop. He was wounded by a machine gun in a battle with the Germans at the Escaut River in Flanders, Belgium, on Nov. 4, 1918.
Carlson was 22 and living in DeKalb when he was drafted in June 1918. He was shipped overseas with the 148th Infantry on Sept. 8 and arrived in Liverpool, England, on Sept. 22.
“I wanted to go,” Carlson said in the interview. “That sounds crazy, maybe. But everybody I knew was going.”
When Nicolosi asked the then-76-year-old Carlson to describe how he was wounded, Carlson said it was just the luck of the draw.
“We were in the thicket of willow underbrush and everything was quiet until one fellow moved,” he said. “They cut loose, and I happened to get it.”
A week after Carlson was shot, an armistice was declared on Nov. 11, 1918, ending the war.
More than 40 years after the interview and almost a century after the war, Nicolosi stood face-to-face with Carlson’s daughter, Edie Wisdom, to present her with the audio tape recordings of her father.
“This is one of those things in life you can’t put a price on,” he said.
As Wisdom, 62, listened to her father’s voice for the first time since his death in October 1987, she was surprised at how much her father, whom she described as a quiet man, was willing to share with someone he barely knew.
“I’ve never heard him talk so much,” she said.
But Wisdom said regardless of his subdued nature, her father’s consent to an interview with Nicolosi was not out of character for him.
“He loved to meet people,” she said.
When Nicolosi and Wisdom had talked over the phone, there was no doubt he had found Carlson’s daughter after searching for some time, Nicolosi said.
“The inflection of her voice was like her dad’s,” he said.
Wisdom admitted she and her children were somewhat apprehensive about Nicolosi’s intentions when he told her his story. They felt it may be some kind of scam because they weren’t sure why he would contact them without getting something in return, she said.
Nicolosi said he felt it was just the right thing to do.
Besides having a nagging fear of losing the tapes, Nicolosi said he’s not sure what triggered him to get in touch with Wisdom more than 40 years after the interview. But he said there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from this experience.
“Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today,” he said.
Nicolosi is still working to track down the family of Private R.C. Anderson.