Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Found In A Bookstore

Leave aside closets that lead to Narnia and cyclones that carry passengers to Oz. Some of the greatest emotional and spiritual revelations for me have happened in bookstores, especially when Christmas shopping. There have been many times that are common to bibliophiles: finding a new author, finding a subject that hits the spot -- the first book that I truly related to was a children's story of a string that went through various stages of relaxation and tension. In my young teens there were the Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse; a touching platonic love story by Ray Bradbury; the discoveries that John Steinbeck and Shirley Jackson had written humorous stories about their families; everything I could find about the history of flight, which led to Anne Morrow Lindbergh's writing, which made me feel (at ages fourteen to seventeen) that I wasn't unique or as solitary as I thought -- also a revelation to an adolescent. Mrs. Lindbergh had had a complex relationship with her husband, but she had an infinitely better spatial sense than I had. Her phrase about the sun "buttering" the leaves, from one of her collections of Diaries and Letters, impressed me for months.
Once, while selecting gifts for relatives, I looked up into the serious face of a young man in a photograph on a book cover that contained the first volume of George Kennan's Memoirs. Whoosh -- that was a life-changing event. I bought volumes one and two, gobbled them up greedily at home, and I haven't been the same since.
The most interesting discovery was, as Chris Rock said it in Everybody Hates Chris, "... finding a needle in a needle stack."
My mother had bought a Vietnam POW/MIA bracelet in the early 1970s. The officer’s name and rank were Lt. Col. Lawrence Guarino. He was listed as “Missing In Action” since 1967.
As groups of former POWs came home after the war, Mom and I checked the lists for Col. Guarino, but did not see his name. Eventually, we assumed that he had died. Years later, we were Christmas shopping in a Providence bookstore. We were in separate aisles, and I was seated next to a pile of books. Peripherally I saw photographs, and red-and-gray colors. I looked down and saw the title, A POW's Story: 2801 Days in Hanoi by Col. Larry Guarino. I picked up one book, but put it down quickly. Col. Guarino’s photograph showed him at about half of his healthy weight. I was appalled and tremendously excited.
“I’ve found the man on my mother’s POW bracelet!” I cried to the people near me. No doubt they were bewildered. “Mom, I’ve found Lawrence Guarino!” Mom walked to the pile of books and exclaimed over them. She picked up one and thumbed through it, her face a picture of intense concentration.
“Well, I don’t really want to read it,” she mused, commenting on her abhorrence of descriptions of torture.
Although unable to read his story, after eight years we knew that Col. Guarino was alive and had been able to write a book about his experiences. We felt that we had found a missing person, and the feeling was extraordinary.


  1. What a lovely story. The life of people who love books is always a wonderful journey.

    Jane from IMDb Classics Lite

  2. Carolyn, I truly know how you felt that moment you found Mr. Guarino's book.

    I also have his bracelet since the late 60's and wore it for a couple of years, then it went into the jewely box because like you, without the computer age, could not find out anything about him.

    Pat (

    I work at the RI Veterans Home and noticed a resident with a POW/MIA bracelet reminded me that I had one too. So I got it out and did a search on Col. Lawrence Guarino and WAS SHOCKED at what I found.

    Not only did he make it back home, after being in a Hanoi prison for 8 years, but as of July 2011 he was still alive.
    I am in the process of writing to him and sending the bracelet to him and his family. I am also planning on reading his two books. The "POW's story" and also "Down in Flames".

    It is truly amazing that he was tortured for 8 long years but made it back home to his family. Pat

  3. I'm so glad that you are contacting him, Pat.
    Again, my thanks.

  4. I don't believe this! I have his bracelet too! I wore it for years, till I saw he came home in a newspaper. But that was all I heard till now.

    He's 90 years old. I'd be glad to send my bracelet to him and his family if they'd like it. How did you find the address for them?