NPR StoryCorps

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.

For more than a decade, Wilson Matthews and Jeanne Yeatman worked together as flight nurses on emergency response helicopters. Over that time, they cared for countless patients as they were being transported to hospitals. One flight in particular, though, remains impossible for them to forget.

They had been trying to save a 13-year-old named Stephen. He'd been riding his bicycle over a dirt jump when he fell and suffered severe head trauma.

By the time he made it into the helicopter, nothing that Wilson or Jeanne tried was doing any good.

On Thursday, President Obama became the first sitting president in U.S. history to visit a federal prison, taking a tour of the El Reno Federal Correction Institution in Oklahoma. Earlier in the week, he addressed the NAACP in Philadelphia, calling for reforms in the criminal justice system — with the hopes of helping people who have served time turn their lives around.

Oshea Israel, whom listeners first met through StoryCorps in 2011, has done just that.

Close to a century ago, New York's Coney Island was famed for its sideshows. Loud-lettered signs crowded the island's attractions, crowing over tattooed ladies, sword swallowers — and even an exhibition of tiny babies.

The babies were premature infants kept alive in incubators pioneered by Dr. Martin Couney. The medical establishment had rejected his incubators, but Couney didn't give up on his aims. Each summer for 40 years, he funded his work by displaying the babies and charging admission — 25 cents to see the show.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Marine Staff Sgt. Jonny Pena came back from Afghanistan, he wasn't the same man who had left for the war.

He and his wife, Marine Sgt. Anny Pena, met when they were stationed in Arizona. Two years later, in 2007, they got married; then they had a son.

On his second tour of duty in Vietnam, Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez embarked on a daring rescue. The mission that he spearheaded saved the lives of eight fellow soldiers — but also left Benavidez himself riddled and bleeding, shot 37 times.

StoryCorps' OutLoud initiative records stories from the LGBTQ community.

As of this Friday, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states — thanks to a historic Supreme Court decision.

In the 1970s, this week's ruling on marriage equality was unimaginable. But many gay couples, knowing marriage was impossible, still wanted legal protection for their unions.

Iconic civil rights activist Bayard Rustin and his partner, Walter Naegle, were one such couple. The two men fell in love and were together for many years.

Fifty-one years before the deadly shootings at a church in Charleston, S.C., there was another infamous attack on a Southern black church. The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan on Sept. 15, 1963.

Four young girls were murdered. Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins were each 14 years old. Denise McNair was 11. Gwen Moten was best friends with Denise.

Mario Loiseau works two jobs, including long hours as a parking lot attendant, to help pay for his 9-year-old daughter Mabou's tutoring. Mabou is a science and language prodigy and is already studying college-level algebra.

"So Daddy, how did you feel when I was born?" she asked her father during a recent visit to StoryCorps in New York City.

Eleven years ago, Sean Fitzpatrick was a high school junior in Spokane, Wash. He had developed paranoid schizophrenia and was hearing voices — though he didn't tell anyone.

One morning, Fitzpatrick went to school with a gun and a plan: To barricade himself in a classroom, pretend he had hostages, and force police to kill him.

His plan didn't work, though at the end of the standoff he was shot in the face and still has difficulty speaking.

StoryCorps' OutLoud initiative records stories from the LGBTQ community.

Michelle Kreifels knows she's different from her siblings. The 51-year-old is the fifth of seven children, and was born with an intellectual disability.

"You're different, too," Michelle tells her younger brother Patrick, 48, during their StoryCorps interview in Omaha, Neb. Patrick and their sister Marlene are Michelle's legal guardians.

"And how am I different?" Patrick asks.

"Gay," Michelle says.

Len Berk loves lox, the salt-cured salmon that goes so well with bagels. The 85-year-old New Yorker is a veteran salmon slicer at Zabar's, the gourmet food shop in Manhattan.

But it wasn't always that way. For nearly four decades, Berk was an accountant.

"I never loved it, but accounting provided a decent living," he said to his friend Joshua Gubitz, during a recent visit to StoryCorps. "And it was very important for me to take care of my children. So after I retired I looked for something to do next."

Jose Guadalupe Enrique Sanchez was a gardener for more than 50 years.

"He had, very dark skin, you could tell he spent his whole life out in the sun," Jose's grandson, Santiago Arredondo said to his wife, Aimee, during a recent visit to StoryCorps.

"His hands were those of someone who worked since the age of 6, but he was the cleanest gardener you would ever see, always wore button down shirts from JCPenney's," 32-year-old Arredondo said.

"And, as a kid, on top of me being overweight, I also stuttered," he continued.

Leslie Hurd, 39, is a Hospital Corpsman in the U.S. Navy. For nine years, she's also served as a Casualty Assistance Calls Officer, or CACO. When active-duty members of the U.S. Navy die, CACOs like Hurd are responsible for breaking the news to their families — and supporting them during their time of grief and loss.

Sgt. Maj. Lisa Torello was 5 years old when her dad, Sgt. 1st Class Carl Torello, was killed in Vietnam.

"My dad was due to retire; he was two months short of 20 years," 55-year-old Lisa said during a visit to StoryCorps. "So, he knew it was his last tour and he was gonna go home for good."

Lisa was joined by Tony Cistaro, a State Department employee at the time, who was the only survivor from the attack that killed the elder Torello. The two had just met the day before.

Before Ferguson, Baltimore, Tamir Rice or Eric Garner, there was 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr.

In 1994, he was playing in the stairwell of the Gowanus Housing Project, where he lived in Brooklyn, when a police officer shot and killed him.

"He was an amazing kid and I don't just say that because he was my son," Nicholas Heyward Sr. says during a recent visit to StoryCorps.

Kay Wang — an admittedly stubborn woman — chatted with her son and granddaughter at StoryCorps a few weeks before she passed away from liver cancer. (This piece initially aired on July 18, 2008, on Morning Edition).

Both of Barbara Hendricks' children were born with cystic fibrosis — a genetic disorder that causes thick mucus to clog the lungs. Her daughter, Tiffany, died of the disease 13 years ago, when she was 15.

"Having CF is like being in a boat with a hole in it," says Brent Hendricks, Barbara's 22-year-old son. "You can keep bailing the water out, and you're fine, but the second you stop, the boat's gonna sink. And, gotta make sure I don't sink."

For Brent, watching his sister die was like watching his own funeral.

The Day One Man Decided To Give Up His Gun

Apr 24, 2015

During the 1970s the Louisiana neighborhood Pastor David Ned lived in was a rough one.

"I had a little dog, a little white German Shepherd, and I was living in an apartment," he said to Darius Clark Monroe during a visit to StoryCorps last fall. The two men met while Monroe was working on a documentary, Evolution of a Criminal, about a robbery he committed in his teens. Ned was a customer in the bank during the robbery.

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before Marine Cpl. Zach Skiles left for Iraq in 2003, he shared a quiet moment with his father, Scott Skiles.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, a truck bomb exploded at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The blast — equal to 4,000 pounds of TNT — killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.

The federal office building also housed a day care center. The explosives-laden truck was parked directly beneath it. Of the 21 children there that morning, only six survived.

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

Pages