NPR StoryCorps

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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