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Playlist: Military Voices Initative

Compiled By: StoryCorps

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StoryCorps MVI: Anny Pena and Jonny Pena

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 03:13

Retired Marines Anny and Jonny Pena talk about the challenges they faced as military spouses, and what it was like when Jonny came home from Afghanistan in 2012.

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Marine Sgt. Anny and Staff Sgt. Jonny Pena met while stationed in Arizona.

After dating for a couple years they got married in 2007, and they were both active duty. But after their first child was born, they decided Anny would leave the military--and that Jonny would stay.

At StoryCorps, they talked about the challenges they faced as military spouses--and what it was like when Jonny came home from Afghanistan in 2012.

 

StoryCorps: Donnie Dunagan and Dana Dunagan

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:33

Retired Marine Corps Major Donnie Dunagan, who was the voice of Bambi in the 1942 Disney film, tells his wife, Dana, about hiding his acting credits during his military career.

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By the end of his 25-year military career, Donnie Dunagan was a highly decorated Major who received two awards for Valor in Combat as well a Purple Heart.

He says the Marines were a perfect fit for him — as long as no one found out about his past.

As a youngster, Dunagan was briefly a child actor who was tapped by Walt Disney to be the voice of Bambi in the 1942 animated film.

Here, he speaks with his wife, Dana.

StoryCorps MVI: Donna Orolin

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:26

Donna Orolin remembers the disappearance of her husband, Private First Class Brian Orolin, and the day he came home from Afghanistan.

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After Army Private First Class Brian Orolin returned from Afghanistan in 2011, everything seemed fine. But as the years went by, his wife, Donna, could tell something wasn’t right. He became paranoid, suffered constant headaches, and would isolate himself in his bedroom with the lights dimmed.

Then, on November 19, Brian left his home and family. He’s been missing ever since.

At StoryCorps, Donna remembered the day he returned from Afghanistan, and the moments before he disappeared.

If anyone has information regarding Brian’s whereabouts, please contact the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office near Spring, Texas. 

StoryCorps: Erik Booker and Jenna Power

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:36

Eighth grader Jenna Power talks with her seventh grade social studies teacher, Erik Booker, about his military service and his deployment to Iraq.

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Erik Booker is a seventh grade social studies teacher at Bates Middle School in Sumter, South Carolina. He served more than 20 years in the United States Army, including two deployments to Iraq.

Last year Jenna Power was a student in Mr. Booker’s class. Like Mr. Booker, her father also served in Iraq as a member of the Army. Without it ever having been spoken, Jenna immediately recognized traits in Mr. Booker that connected him to her father and their shared service.

The two of them sat down at StoryCorps so Jenna could interview her teacher about his time at war.

StoryCorps OutLoud: Jeff Dupre and David Phillips

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:38

Jeff Dupre remembers his friend Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich who appeared on a 1975 cover of Time with the headline, “I Am a Homosexual.”

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In September 1975, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich was featured on the cover of Time magazine under the headline, “I Am a Homosexual.” It was the first time an openly gay man appeared on the cover of a national news magazine.

In March of that year, Matlovich—who served three tours in Vietnam and received both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart—delivered a letter to his commanding officer stating that he was gay and that he intended to continue his military career (click here to view a copy of the letter).

Leonard Matlovitch was challenging the military ban on gay service members.

Soon after the issue of Time hit newsstands, Matlovich was discharged from the Air Force for his admission. For the next five years, the decorated veteran fought his dismissal in Federal court and was eventually reinstated. While he never returned to active duty, he did receive a monetary settlement from the military that included back pay.

Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich died on June 22, 1988.

Jeff Dupre knew Leonard Matlovich in the 1970s. He came to StoryCorps with his husband, David Phillips, to record Jeff’s memories of the man who started the legal battle for military acceptance of LGBTQ people.

StoryCorps: Barry Romo

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:16

Veteran Barry Romo and his nephew Bobby Romo were born a month apart and grew up together. They both went to Vietnam, only one came home.

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Barry Romo grew up in a tight-knit family in Southern California in the 1950s. The youngest of his siblings, he spent his childhood surrounded by a niece and nephews of a similar age.

Barry was particularly close with one of his nephews, Robert, known to everyone as Bobby. Bobby was just a month younger than Barry and Barry considered Bobby to be another brother.

During the Vietnam War, Barry enlisted in the Army and Bobby was drafted. Only one of them came home. Private First Class Robert Romo was killed in action in 1968. First Lieutenant Barry Romo was chosen to escort his body home.

Barry came to StoryCorps to remember his nephew.

StoryCorps MVI: Marjorie Finlay, Nathan Williams, Denise & Shane Clancy

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 03:41

As combat roles open to women, we present conversations from those who served when their roles and expectations were defined by gender.

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Last year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that as of April 1, all military combat jobs would be open to women. As part of StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative (MVI), this week we are presenting two broadcasts from woman who served at a time when their roles and expectations were defined almost solely by their gender.

Marjorie Finlay enlisted in the Air Force in 1973 at a time when there were few women in the military. She was excited to be in uniform, but the training she received was not what she had expected when she joined up.

Instead of completing obstacle courses and firing guns, she was instructed on how to sit with her legs crossed at the ankle, how to do her hair and makeup, and how to dial a telephone with a pencil.

Even though this disappointed her, Margie still loved being a member of the Air Force. But while enlisted, she became pregnant with her first child, and was told by her commanders that in order for her--a married pregnant woman--to remain in uniform, she would need her husband to sign a waiver giving his permission for her to remain in the military.

Her husband refused sign a waiver and in 1974, just before the birth of her son, Margie was forced out of the Air Force.

Margie missed being in the military and reenlisted in 1993. She and her husband divorced in 1996. Today she is a captain in the Air National Guard. She came to StoryCorps with her son, Nathan Williams, to talk about her early experiences serving in the Air Force.


Clancy comes from a long line of soldiers. In her family there are more than 200 years of combined military service. Growing up she always knew she would continue her family legacy.

Denise enlisted in the Navy in 1990 serving as a cryptologist and within a few years, when the Navy began allowing women to serve aboard combat vessels, she was deployed to the U.S.S. Enterprise. There were few women on ships at the time and Denise remembers being warned by her fellow enlistees not travel around the Enterprise at night without an escort.

While on the aircraft carrier, Denise met her future husband, Shane. They are both now retired from the military and came to StoryCorps to remember the ways women were treated on their ship, and what it has been like to raise their daughters in a military family. 

StoryCorps: Catherine Alaniz-Simonds and David Taylor

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 01:50

Catherine Alaniz-Simonds and retired Col. David Taylor remember Catherine’s husband, Andy Alaniz, who died by friendly fire during the Gulf War.

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February marked 25 years since the end of the Gulf War.

Operation Desert Storm, the portion of the war focused on removing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi military forces from neighboring Kuwait, began in January 1991.

One of the war’s final battles, waged just before a cease-fire was declared, was a United States-led attack on the Iraqi controlled Jalibah Airfield by the 24th Infantry Division. Army Captain David Taylor was one of the officers leading the troops, and he feared that the plan would result in American soldiers dying as a result of friendly fired. But he did not say anything, and unfortunately, he was right.

Army Specialist Andy Alaniz was a member of a unit not under the command of Capt. Taylor, his vehicle turned sharply during the fight and he ended up in the line of fire. Andy died in the crossfire, one of 35 soldiers killed by friendly fire during the Gulf War.

At the time of his death, Andy, 20, had been married less than a year, and is wife, Catherine Alaniz-Simonds, was six months pregnant. While Andy was in Iraq they would send each other letters and Polaroid photos almost daily. Catherine would give him detailed updates about her pregnancy, and Andy would send back photos scrawled with messages like “Take care of the baby,” and “I love you.”

Days after her baby shower, Catherine learned that on February 27, 1991, Andy had been killed.

Since his death, Catherine has sought out men from both Andy’s unit and the other units present at the airfield to help her better understand what happened to her husband that day. And since that time, now retired Colonel David Taylor has lived with the guilt of believing that he could have done something to prevent the death of his fellow solider.

Earlier this year, at a reunion of the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia, Catherine and David (pictured in the player above) met face-to-face for the first time. They sat down for StoryCorps to talk about the day Andy died and how it has impacted both of their lives.

Catherine and Andy’s daughter, Andee, will turn 25 later this year. In 1992, the photographer David Turnley won a World Press Photo of the Year prize for his image of the grief shown by Sergeant Ken Kozakiewicz who was being evacuated to a hospital by helicopter upon learning that the body bag accompanying him and fellow wounded soldier Corporal Michael Tsangarakis contained the remains of his friend, Andy Alaniz.

Click here to see that image.

StoryCorps: Jim Stockdale and Jasey Schnaars

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:46

Vice Admiral James Stockdale was a Vietnam War POW for more than seven years. His son, Jim, recalls the family’s difficult wait for his father’s return.

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Many Americans remember Vice Admiral James Stockdale as H. Ross Perot’s running mate during the 1992 presidential campaign. Standing on stage between Dan Quayle and Al Gore during the vice-presidential debate, Admiral Stockdale opened by rhetorically asking: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

Those questions immediately became a sound bite and a punchline for late night comedians, and for millions of Americans, they defined a man they knew little about.

Adm. Stockdale’s legacy goes far beyond a few sentences spoken at a debate. Over the course of his Naval career, he earned 26 combat awards including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts, four Silver Stars, and in 1976 President Gerald Ford presented him with our nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

In 1947, Adm. Stockdale graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and in 1965, then-Captain Stockdale’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam. He was then captured and brought to the Hoa Lo Prison, infamously referred to as the Hanoi Hilton.

Being the highest-ranking Naval officer held prisoner of war, he became a leader among the other POWs establishing a code of conduct to help keep them from being used by the North Vietnamese for propaganda purposes. Adm. Stockdale, who was forced to wear leg irons for two years while held captive, at one point slashed his own face with a razor to keep from being put on camera, and according to his Medal of Honor citation, he once used glass from a broken window to slit his own wrist in order to “convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate.”

During his seven and a half years as a POW, Adm. Stockdale was able to send letters to his wife, Sybil, in California. Quickly, she figured out his correspondences contained coded messages and she coordinated with the CIA to continue their communications while her husband was held captive.

Sybil herself was a force to be reckoned with. She was a vocal advocate for the families of POWs and soldiers missing in action at a time when the United States government followed a “keep quiet” policy, asking relatives of POWs not to call attention to their family members (this policy was primarily for public relations purposes). And as a response, she helped found the National League of Families of American Prisoners Missing in Southeast Asia, a nonprofit organization that is still active today as The National League of POW/MIA Families.

In 1979, Sybil was awarded the U.S. Navy Department’s Distinguished Public Service Award, presented to civilians for specific courageous or heroic acts. The citation that accompanied the honor noted, “Her actions and indomitable spirit in the face of many adversities contributed immeasurably to the successful safe return of American prisoners, gave hope, solace and support to their families in a time of need and reflected the finest traditions of the Naval service and of the United States of America.”

In July 2005, Adm. Stockdale died at the age of 81, and in October 2015, Sybil died at the age of 90. They are buried alongside each other at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

Their son, Jim, who was a teenager at the time of his father’s capture, came to StoryCorps with his friend, Jasey Schnaars, to talk about his mother’s strength as they waited for his father’s return home.

StoryCorps: Donna Engeman and Nicole McKenna

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:06

Donna Engeman shares stories about her husband, Army Chief Warrant Officer John Engeman, who was killed 10 years ago while deployed in Iraq.

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In 1981, when she was 20 years old, Donna Engeman enlisted in the United States Army. Prior to joining, Donna had not only never set foot outside of the country, but she had never even left the state of Minnesota.

While stationed in Germany, she met Long Island native John Engeman. Living in the barracks, they had what soldiers often refer to as a “barracks romance”--a fling that does not last long. But Donna and Sergeant Engeman quickly fell in love and in February 1983 they married.

Months after the wedding, Donna, pregnant with their first child, a boy, and believing herself to be a better spouse than soldier, left the Army and returned to the states to raise Patrick.

John remained in the military and in January 2006, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was deployed to Baghdad. On May 14, 2006, an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during a combat operation killing him and a fellow soldier.

Chief Warrant Officer John W. Engeman is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Donna and John’s son, Patrick, is currently an Army major who has been deployed overseas four times.

Donna came to StoryCorps with their daughter, Nicole McKenna (pictured together at left), to share stories of John as a young husband and father.

StoryCorps: Duery Felton and Rick Weidman

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:36

The first curator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection talks with his friend and fellow war veteran about the collection and his service.

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Every day since it officially opened in November 1982, visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., have left tributes to those whose names are engraved on The Wall: medals, dog tags, clothing, and other objects they associate with friends, loved ones, and fellow service members.

The Memorial Wall is under the supervision of the National Park Service, and when Duery Felton learned that park rangers were collecting and storing this huge collection of items, he became a volunteer in order to see them for himself. Eventually he was offered a full-time position as the first curator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection, a job he held for 28 years before retiring in 2014.

Duery, who served in Vietnam, came to StoryCorps with his friend and fellow war veteran, Rick Weidman (pictured together above), to discuss what drew him to the wall, and to talk about his service during the Vietnam War.

Click here to view a gallery of some of the more than 400,000 items left by visitors to The Wall.

Originally aired November 12, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

StoryCorps: Hartmut Lau and Barbara Lau

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:40

A decorated veteran who served 24 years in the U.S. Army talks with his wife for the first time about his experiences during the Vietnam War.

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After graduating from West Point in 1967, Hartmut Lau was given a choice to serve his active duty in either the United States or Europe. He volunteered to go to Vietnam.

With the U.S. escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War, and the draft still two years away, Hartmut joined the Army’s 9th Infantry Division during one of the war’s worst years of combat. In 1968, American casualties peaked at 16,899, and 29 of Hartmut’s 589 fellow cadets from the class of ’67 were killed.

In 1991, after 24 years of service, Hartmut retired at the rank of colonel having been awarded the Silver Star Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Purple Heart. Five years later, he met his wife, Barbara.

Over the course of their 20-year marriage, he has shared with her stories about his time at West Point, but Hartmut had never before spoken to Barbara about his service during the Vietnam War—until they came to StoryCorps.

Originally aired November 11, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

StoryCorps MVI: Ernesto Rodriguez and Sebastian Rodriguez

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 04:24

For Father’s Day, retired Marine Lieutenant Ernesto Rodriguez answers tough questions about war and family from his 11-year-old son Sebastian.

Rodriqueznpr_small Puerto Rico native First Lieutenant Ernesto Rodriguez enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2002 as an opportunity to serve, see the world, and better his English. In 2004, the year after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was married, and in January 2005, his first child, Sebastian, was born. Later that year he was deployed to Iraq.

While he loved life in the military with the security and stability it offered, and welcomed the opportunity to put his training to use, being at war limited his contact with his family and he missed them immensely. Having seen other service members watch their children “grow up in pictures,” he was determined not to let that happen to him.

In 2009, resolved not to spend any more time away from his family, which now included his daughter, Elsasofia, Ernesto retired from the Marines.

Returning home, he found the life he arrived to was not the same one he had left behind before going off to war. His children barely knew him, steady employment was difficult to find, he and his wife separated, and for a period of time he was homelessness. His life was in a tailspin.

Ernesto came to StoryCorps with Sebastian (pictured together above), 11, to talk for the first time about what it was like for him to go off to war, and his attempts to keep his family together after his return.

Originally aired June 17, 2016 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

StoryCorps MVI: Jenna Henderson and Laurie Laychak

From StoryCorps | Part of the StoryCorps series | 02:32

Jenna Henderson came to StoryCorps to remember her husband, Army Sgt. First Class Chris Henderson, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007.

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On June 17, 2007, Army Sgt. First Class Chris Henderson and two other soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near their Humvee in Afghanistan.

Chris enlisted in the Army during his senior year of high school, and soon after graduating in June 1991; he went off to boot camp. He spent more than 15 years in the military serving tours of duty in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was still in uniform when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred.

A month later, in October 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began and in January 2007, Chris was deployed to the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan where he was part of a team working to help train Afghan National Army forces. Chris was killed on Father’s Day of that year; he was 35 years old. He is survived by his wife, Jenna Henderson, and his 8-year-old daughter, Kayley.

Jenna and Chris met while in their 20s and had been married for seven years before he was killed. The family lived together in Fort Lewis, Washington, where Chris was based. He was a loving husband and a devoted father, and Jenna says, a total goofball. She remembers coming home to find Chris and 18-month-old Kayley in their bathing suits playing in mud puddles or riding on Chris’ motorcycle. The two were inseparable.

Now 18, Kayley bears a striking resemblance to her father. “When she’s upset, her little eyebrow twitches,” says Jenna, “And when she smiles, she’s kind of got that little crooked smile he had.” She has even participated in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at her high school and is hoping to soon get her motorcycle license.

Jenna still misses Chris terribly and holds on to one of the last letters she received from him. “In it he said, how much he loved me and how he was glad that he had married me, and that he wouldn’t have changed that for the world.”

Jenna came to StoryCorps with Laurie Laychak (left), a mentor she met through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)--an organization that offers compassionate care to those grieving the death of a loved one serving in the Armed Forces--to share memories of Chris.

Originally aired September 3, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

StoryCorps: George Rincon and Yolanda Reyes

From StoryCorps | 04:23

At the beginning of the Iraq War, nearly 40,000 members of the United States military were not citizens. Army Private First Class Diego Rincon was one of them. As a child, he had immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia with his family. He he always known he wanted to join the military, and at 19, he enlisted in the Army. Diego was deployed to Iraq in March 2003, at the beginning of the war. Just 11 days in, he was killed by a suicide bomber. Diego received U.S. citizenship on April 10, 2003--the day of his funeral. His parents, George Rincon and Yolanda Reyes, came to StoryCorps to remember him.

Img_1408_small At the beginning of the Iraq War, nearly 40,000 members of the United States military were not citizens. Army Private First Class Diego Rincon was one of them. As a child, he had immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia with his family. He he always known he wanted to join the military, and at 19, he enlisted in the Army. Diego was deployed to Iraq in March 2003, at the beginning of the war. Just 11 days in, he was killed by a suicide bomber. Diego received U.S. citizenship on April 10, 2003--the day of his funeral. His parents, George Rincon and Yolanda Reyes, came to StoryCorps to remember him.

StoryCorps: Kristin Glasgow and Karen Offutt

From StoryCorps | 04:23

In the late 1960s, Karen Offutt was a patriotic teenager who got chills whenever she heard the “Star-Spangled Banner.” At 18, she dropped out of nursing school to enlist in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Vietnam.
As a stenographer, Karen was given top secret “eyes only” clearance working for high-ranking generals. Her duties included everything from typing and transcribing to serving tea.

At StoryCorps, Karen spoke with her daughter Kristin about her time at war.

Offuttsquare_small In the late 1960s, Karen Offutt was a patriotic teenager who got chills whenever she heard the “Star-Spangled Banner.” At 18, she dropped out of nursing school to enlist in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Vietnam. As a stenographer, Karen was given top secret “eyes only” clearance working for high-ranking generals. Her duties included everything from typing and transcribing to serving tea. At StoryCorps, Karen spoke with her daughter Kristin about her time at war.