Jeweler's memoir recalls WWII service, career, family


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C. Mel Eiben was talking about his life when an employee at his Downtown jewelry store said she should follow her boss around with a tape recorder and write a book.

"It came to me: 'Who better to write it than the person who lived it?' '' Mr. Eiben said.

For the next seven years, Mr. Eiben, 85, of Shadyside, jotted down notes about his life experiences.

They include his military service as captain of an amphibious Landing Craft Tank during World War II; his career as co-founder of the former Downtown institution Eiben and Irr jewelers; and, for a time, his experience as an entrepreneur for a resort at Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland.

Still, he said, his favorite role was that of loving husband for 46 years to his wife, Winnie, who died in 1990.

To authenticate memories of his military time, he consulted a former shipmate, William Miller, of Newark, Ohio, whose name he found through a Web site dedicated to landing craft.

That Web site happens to be maintained by a Whitehall man, Richard Fox.

George Lake, of Indianapolis, a college classmate of Mr. Eiben and a fellow Naval officer, also contributed information on the Pacific war zone and wrote the book's foreword.

The result is the 330-page "Forks in the Road," a memoir self-published this year through Word Association Publishers, of Tarentum.

"It's amazing how your life can be affected by just one event," said Mr. Eiben about his choice of a title.

An example of that, he noted in the book, is when he -- then recently discharged and unemployed -- was handed a pamphlet by his father-in-law about an engraving school. That was the start of Mr. Eiben's successful career in the jewelry business.

Mr. Eiben grew up in Mount Oliver and graduated from Carrick High School. He was attending Duquesne University and was in ROTC when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

He went into the Navy and after training, at age 21, became the commanding officer of a landing craft designed to transport tanks, men and supplies in the Pacific Ocean war zone.

While assigned to the Zamboanga Peninsula in the Philippines, he and a fellow officer undertook an unauthorized, harrowing journey through a dense jungle and up a mountain to visit the spiritual leader of a warlike native tribe.

"I realize how fortunate we were to get off the island alive," he wrote of the incident.

He came to another important "fork in the road'' when, in 1952, he ran into former fraternity brother Robert Irr on a bus headed to work. The idea for Eiben and Irr jewelers was hatched.

The well-known Eiben and Irr thrived from 1953 to 1979 at Liberty Avenue and Wood Street.

In 1979, Mr. Eiben opened C. Mel Eiben Jewelers in the Clark Building on Liberty Avenue, Downtown, where he savors "the excitement of meeting each new customer who walks through the door."

Reflecting on his past in his autobiography, he said, "I made too many mistakes." But he added that the joys outweigh the rough times.

In addition to being his own boss, he counts as particular blessings his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He concluded his book with: "My life continues to go on, and I am enjoying every precious moment of every day."

For more information, call Mr. Eiben at 412-488-7223 or visit www.cmeleibenjewelers.com. The book costs $19.95 plus tax and shipping.


Margaret Smykla is a freelance writer.


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