NPR StoryCorps

In 1967, after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Hartmut Lau deployed to Vietnam. During his deployment, he earned a bronze star, a silver star and a purple heart.

He describes his time in Vietnam matter-of-factly: "You perform the mission that you're given. You do your job and then you either perform well or you don't."

Jenn Stanley tries not to bring up politics when she returns home to visit her father. She really, really tries.

"But you always watch the 5 o'clock news, and the minute any politician steps on — it doesn't matter who it is — I just cringe."

Carmen Pacheco-Jones, mother of five, was addicted to heroin. As she would get high, her children would often skip class — sometimes "half the school year," her daughter Jasmine Pacheco says, "because there was nobody to make us go to school."

The situation didn't last, though.

"I remember when the task force raided the house," Carmen tells her daughter. "You guys had gone off to school, and I was in the bathroom getting high. I heard this bang-bang at the door and the police were through, and it just happened so quickly."

When Tariq Sheikh first saw Tabinda, he remembers she was wearing yellow gloves. A recent arrival from the Dominican Republic, Tabinda had just taken a job as a housekeeper at a New York City hotel — the very same hotel where Tariq worked at the hotel's front desk.

And when Tariq saw her, he was utterly tongue-tied. He couldn't even say hello.

"Oh, I thought you was rude and mean," she tells him, on a visit with StoryCorps in 2014. "I said, 'Oh my God, this guy don't even say hi.' You're just staring at me!"

Joe Serna served three tours in Afghanistan as a Green Beret. Judge Lou Olivera is a veteran, too, who served in the Army as an intelligence officer. But when they met, it wasn't on base. It was in a North Carolina courtroom.

Serna had been struggling to adapt to life back home, and, after violating probation on DWI charge, he was sentenced by Olivera to a night in jail. He would have spent that time in his cell alone with his thoughts, if Olivera hadn't joined him.

On a late summer day in 2010, John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver, was walking across the street carrying his carving knife and a small piece of wood when he was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer.

"He was carving an eagle at the moment," his brother Rick recalls, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. Rick tells his friend Jay Hollingsworth that his brother loved to carve — had been carving even at age 4, when he completed his first totem pole. He says John could walk and carve at the same time, and that was just what he was doing, carrying his knife openly.

Ten years ago, a gunman barricaded himself inside a one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pa. Then he opened fire.

Charles "Charlie" Roberts killed five children and injured five others before killing himself.

The Amish community responded in a way that many found surprising: They forgave the shooter. And, in the years since, they have grown close to his family.

"I will never face my Amish neighbors again"

Nearly 9 million miles and counting.

That's how many miles Idella Hansen and Sandi Talbott have between them. The best friends and big-rig truckers have been at it for an awfully long time. But back when they started, they were a rarity on the road.

"There weren't that many women out here driving trucks," Talbott recalls with Hansen, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "And my husband's health was not good; he only had one leg, so consequently I did all the driving."

In school, they called her stupid. Dumb. Lazy.

Eileen Kushner had always had trouble with reading and simple math, and while she was growing up in Detroit during the 1950s, her fellow students didn't make life easy on her. Later, she'd be diagnosed with a learning disability, but at the time, she just had to suffer the slings and arrows of her peers. When she got married right out of high school and had three kids, she hoped that her life as a stay-at-home mom might hide her learning problems.

Things didn't work out that way.

On Sept. 11, 2001, two men arrived at the ticket counter late for American Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles International Airport. This was before the days of the Transportation Security Administration, when airport security was quite different from what it is today. At the time, the man working at the counter, Vaughn Allex, followed procedure and checked them through.

Those two men were among the five hijackers who crashed that flight into the Pentagon — killing 189 people, including themselves.

The StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week we hear from Jenna Henderson whose husband died while serving in Afghanistan.

Sgt. First Class Chris Henderson joined the Army right out of high school in 1991. He served in Bosnia and Kosovo before deploying to Afghanistan in 2007 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. On that tour, he was killed by an IED, when he was just 35 years old.

Last year, Ceceley Chambers visited a Massachusetts home for people with memory loss. As a chaplain who has worked with seniors and hospice patients, Chambers knew the residents liked having kids around.

She just wasn't sure her 9-year-old son, William, would feel the same about being there.

"My original thought was, 'Oh no,' " William tells her, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "I was a little afraid."

But as it turns out, he really liked it there. "They were very thoughtful," he says. "They were very accepting."

The Rev. Danny Cortez is a pastor. He also has a son who recently came out as gay. And when his teenage son came out to him in 2014, he did something more than express his support: He decided to talk to his Southern Baptist congregation about it — even though doing so likely meant getting kicked out of the church.

Frank Mutz's family has been keeping people cool for more than half a century.

It began with his grandfather, who started installing and repairing air conditioners in the 1950s. Now, Frank is the elder in the family trade, running the Atlanta business alongside his own children, including his son Phil.

When Melva Washington Toomer joined her father on a visit with StoryCorps recently, their conversation was quite unlike anything that has been featured in the series' 10-year history. That's because she spoke with her dad, John Carter Washington, relying not on her voice but on a TeleBraille machine.

Washington is blind and deaf. So was his late wife, in fact — and together, they raised three children, including Melva, the oldest.

Back in the early '60s, computer dating was a pretty new idea. Only a handful of services existed and they used massive computers — the size of an entire room — to calculate compatibility.

But John Matlock and his future wife, Carol, both decided to take a chance on the new technology.

They filled out questionnaires about themselves and put them in the mail.

Their answers were fed into the computer on a punch card.

Then, they waited for a match.

When 8-year-old Savannah Phelan came across a video recently, she found herself brimming with questions she didn't know the answer to. That's because the online video depicted her mom, Kellie, talking about being pregnant while serving time in New York City's Rikers Island jail complex.

Ten years ago, Arnaldo Silva noticed a lump on his chest and decided to get it checked out.

"I'm sitting in an office with about 80 women, everybody's staring at me. And this lady leaned over she says, 'Are you waiting for somebody?' and I said 'No, I'm here for me,' " the 66-year-old tells his daughter, Vanessa Silva-Welch, during a recent visit to StoryCorps. "And I remember the doctor, he looked at me, he says 'You have male breast cancer. And we gotta move right away.' And then I was told that you had to get tested."

Jim Saint Germain moved to the U.S. from Haiti as a kid. But the adjustment wasn't easy. He was often in trouble — so often, in fact, that by the age of 14, he was kicked out of his house by his parents.

That's when Saint Germain's middle-school dean, Carlos Walton, stepped in — even offering Saint Germain a place to stay for a short time. As Saint Germain recalls, Walton's house was clean, filled with pictures of black leaders and something more intangible: love.

Charles Jones' 12-year-old son, Malik, has autism. When he found out, Jones says, the news came as a shock — and fodder for plenty of fears.

"It was like a shot in the gut," he says. "I thought my son would be nonverbal, that he would never say 'I love you.' But when he started talking he wouldn't shut up."

Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker made a life together gazing at the stars. For 17 years, the couple worked side by side — Gene, as a renowned astrogeologist, studying planets and other celestial bodies, and Carolyn, who had turned to astronomy later in life yet discovered more comets than most pros.

"When I was 50 years old and my kids were grown, Gene suggested, well, maybe I would like to try my hand at astronomy a little bit," Carolyn tells her son-in-law Phred Salazar, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

When he was just 2 weeks old, Ibukun Owolabi's mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. It fell to his then-teenage sister Alice to help raise him instead.

"It's still really hard to talk about her," Alice says of their mother, "because her passing was around the same time as you being born."

On a recent visit with StoryCorps, Alice, now 25, talked with her 10-year-old brother about the mother they shared — but whom he never really knew. That doesn't mean he wasn't loved by her, though.

Before this month's shooting in Orlando, the deadliest attack on gay people in the U.S. happened at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. On this date in 1973, someone set fire to that bar in the French Quarter, killing 32 people.

No one was ever charged with the arson. And though it remains the deadliest fire in the city's history, neither the mayor nor the governor spoke about it then.

Marine 1st Lt. Ernesto Rodriguez is a father of two. When he deployed to Iraq in 2005, he had only recently become a dad. When he got back, he struggled to hold his life together.

But he'd never spoken about those times with his son, Sebastian, until they sat down for a StoryCorps interview.

Just off the boardwalk at Brooklyn's Coney Island sits the New York Aquarium, the oldest continuously operating aquarium in the U.S. Among its many attractions, the place plays host to tiger sharks, sea lions — and one former rock star.

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