NPR StoryCorps

John Graziano, a second-grader in 1986, was diagnosed with HIV in a Chicago suburb called Wilmette. He had contracted the disease from his biological mother, but he had been adopted by the Graziano family.

"John was one of the first children in the state of Illinois to be diagnosed as HIV-positive," his adoptive father, Tom, remembers. Tom Graziano recently spoke with John's elementary school principal, Paul Nilsen, on a visit with StoryCorps.

Marge Klindera spent decades teaching home economics to kids in Illinois. But in the early 1980s, after she had retired, she was looking for another way to pass along her knowledge.

That's when she decided to join a Thanksgiving call center — where thousands of panicked home cooks call every year, hoping for last-minute guidance in cooking their dinner.

"We like to say we kind of deal with turkey trauma," Klindera, now 79, tells her longtime coworker, Carol Miller, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

Each morning for the past decade, StoryCorps has been presenting interviews recorded in booths. But this year, StoryCorps created a smartphone app that gives anyone — even if they can't get to a booth — the ability to interview someone and save that recorded interview at the Library of Congress.

These interviews can be recorded anywhere, even in the parking lot of an Applebee's. That's where Kara Masteller sat with her grandfather, James Kennicott, and talked about life and love in Waterloo, Iowa — in Masteller's 1994 Buick.

StoryCorps' Memory Loss Initiative supports and encourages people with various forms of memory loss to share their stories with loved ones and future generations.

Teresa Valko lives in California, and her mother, 80-year-old Evelyn Wilson, lives in Georgia. They keep in touch with regular phone conversations.

Eight years ago, Wilson began to show symptoms of memory loss.

As the youngest in his family, Barry Romo grew up with nephews his age. In fact, one of them, Robert Romo, was just a month younger than him. Barry says that he and Robert were raised like brothers.

Both of them served in the Army during the Vietnam War. But only one of them made it home.

"I enlisted in the Army, to go to Vietnam, that was my intention. And he didn't want to go in the military but he got drafted anyway," Barry recalls on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "They sent him to Vietnam, and he ended up being in my brigade."

In September 1975, Time magazine featured decorated Vietnam veteran Leonard Matlovich on the cover. His name was clearly visible on his Air Force uniform, and the headline read: "I Am a Homosexual."

Matlovich — who had come out in a letter to his commanding officer before the cover ran — was challenging the military ban on gay service members.

Twenty years ago, and just days before Halloween, Janette Fennell and her husband returned home from a night out with friends, only to find an unpleasant surprise waiting for them. When they pulled into the garage of their San Francisco home, two armed men appeared, forced the couple into the trunk of their car — then drove away.

And the last that Janette knew, their 9-month-old son, Alex, was still sitting in his car seat.

Erik Booker is a seventh-grade teacher in Sumter, S.C. He also happens to be an Army veteran who served in Iraq — just like the father of one of his students last year, Jenna Power.

So, when Jenna and Erik visited with StoryCorps, Jenna wanted to know more about his experiences — including the most difficult thing he experienced there.

"Being separated from my family for that long — you can't even begin to explain that to someone who hasn't experienced something like that," Erik answers. "Were you ever afraid when your dad was deployed?"

StoryCorps has an assignment as generations gather this Thanksgiving: Document the stories and voices of a grandparent or elder.

Shortly after she left Northern California for Los Angeles, Andrea Crook began to experience things she'd never felt before: paranoid thoughts, delusions, erratic behavior. It was the first time she had shown symptoms of mental illness.

On an October day more than 40 years ago, George Giffe and an accomplice, Bobby Wayne Wallace, hijacked a small charter airplane at gunpoint, claiming to have a bomb. Giffe, who suffered from mental illness, had kidnapped his estranged wife and forced his way on board the flight in Nashville.

When the plane landed for fuel in Jacksonville, Fla., law enforcement intervened.

Today, Noramay Cadena is a mechanical engineer, fitted with multiple degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But she came by her motivation in a place much different from the MIT classrooms: a factory in Los Angeles where her mother brought her one summer as a teenager.

When Glenda Elliott was growing up in rural, small-town Georgia in the 1940s, the modern gay rights movement hadn't exactly arrived yet. In fact, it wasn't even really on the horizon. And so, when she fell in love with a woman when she was in her 20s, she didn't have a road map of how to react.

"There were certainly no role models of what it means to love someone of the same sex," recalls Elliott, 75, on a visit with StoryCorps in Alabama. "I didn't know how to understand that."

On Sept. 11, 2001, Isaac Feliciano dropped his wife off at the subway so she could get to her job at Marsh & McLennan, in the south tower of the World Trade Center. Then, he headed to work himself — at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where he's worked for the past 21 years.

When the plane struck the tower, even as far away as he was, Feliciano was still able to see the damage firsthand.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

If you've ever visited the Fells Point neighborhood on the Baltimore waterfront, you may have noticed an older man standing on the street corner, telescope in hand. Herman Heyn, self-proclaimed "star hustler," has been setting up in the same place almost every night, offering passersby glimpses of the galaxy for close to three decades.

He knows, because he's been keeping count.

"I just finished my 27th year. I've been out on the street 2,637 times," he says. "It's like being on a Broadway show that has a long run."

Ten years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was the city's Lower Ninth Ward that was hit the hardest.

"I remember coming back home," Lower Ninth resident Burnell Cotlon told his mother, Lillie, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "That was the first time I cried."

"We lost everything," Lillie says.

When Monica Harwell started working for Con Edison as a line constructor in 1991, her job was to install power lines, dozens of feet in the air. She was the first woman to climb utility poles for the company.

At the time, Harwell worked with men whose families had been working on the lines for generations. Many of them never thought she'd make it. She felt like they hated her.

Roberto Olivera grew up just outside Los Angeles in the 1950s. His youth was far from idyllic.

"My stepfather was a cruel man to my mother, my sister and I, and everyone in the family," Olivera, 64, told his wife, Debra, on a visit with StoryCorps in LA. "The beatings? Humiliations? I remember them every day."

Donnie Dunagan is a hard-nosed Marine, a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who served for a quarter-century before retiring as a major. First drafted in the '50s and subsequently promoted 13 times in 21 years — a Corps record at the time, he recalls — Dunagan found the Marines a perfect fit. That is, so long as he could keep a secret.

A dark reminder of the past Dunagan left behind still lurked unspoken: He was Bambi.

Pages