NPR StoryCorps

Melford Williams, a World War II veteran and tribal leader with the Caddo Nation, raised eight kids during the 1950s and '60s. He died in 1978, and his grandson, Kiamichi-tet Williams, never got a chance to meet him.

On a visit to StoryCorps in Denver, Kiamichi-tet asked his dad, Thompson Williams, about his grandfather.

"He wasn't the biggest guy, but people reacted to him like he was [a] giant," Thompson says. His father was a kindhearted man who wasn't afraid to cry, Thompson says.

In the late 1950s, when she was just 8 years old, Storm Reyes began picking fruit as a full-time farm laborer for less than $1 per hour. Storm and her family moved often, living in Native American migrant worker camps without electricity or running water.

With all that moving around, she wasn't allowed to have books growing up, Storm tells her son, Jeremy Hagquist, on a visit to StoryCorps in Tacoma, Wash.

"Books are heavy, and when you're moving a lot you have to keep things just as minimal as possible," she says.

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

On Staff Sgt. Jon Meadows' first deployment to Iraq, one of his friends, Staff Sgt. William Beardsley, said he wanted to go on a mission in Jon's place.

Jon agreed — and Beardsley died on that mission.

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

During her back-to-back deployments to Iraq for the U.S. Air Force, then-Senior Airman MaCherie Dunbar volunteered to do "patriot detail" — a ceremony for soldiers, airmen, Marines or sailors killed in action.

Carlos Rocha grew up in Chicago and became a gang member like his brothers. In 1998, he was arrested for weapons possession and sent to prison.

Right before he was to be released on bond, Carlos, now 40, got into a fight with another inmate and killed him, resulting in an additional 24 years behind bars.

When we first heard from Eddie Lanier Jr. and his friend David Wright in 2006, Eddie, the son of a former mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C., was homeless and a recovering alcoholic.

In 2009, Frank Tempone was severely depressed. He had what he calls a midlife crisis, and left his wife and three kids in Massachusetts to live on his own in Chicago.

But after two years apart, Frank came back. The entire family moved to Chicago, and Frank brought his oldest son, Jack, to StoryCorps because he wanted to apologize.

"Do you remember that time?" Frank asks Jack.

Ayodeji Ogunniyi was a pre-med student when his father was murdered by three young men. So Ogunniyi decided that becoming a teacher, not a doctor, would help ensure his father's death was not in vain. (This StoryCorps interview initially aired Oct. 30, 2011 on Weekend Edition Sunday.)

Cristina Peña was born in 1984 with HIV. Her father died from AIDS, and her mother is still living with HIV. Cristina was told she had HIV when she was 9, but she and her family kept it a secret from her schoolmates and friends.

In high school, she started dating Chris Ondaatje. One day, Chris decided to tell Cristina that he was in love with her.

That's when Cristina sat him down for a revelation of her own.

Last year, New York became the first state to require newborn screening for a genetic disorder called adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD. The disorder rapidly attacks the nervous system. The most common form of ALD mainly affects young boys and can be fatal within a year.

But if ALD is detected in newborns, a bone marrow transplant can help them survive. The legislation is known as "Aidan's Law" for Aidan Jack Seeger, who died from ALD in 2012 at age 7.

Army Capt. Drew Pham, 26, returned from a tour in Afghanistan in October 2011. Since Drew's been back, it's been hard for him to make sense of what he saw there and adjust to his life at home. It's been difficult for his wife, Molly Pearl, to respond to some of the things he would tell her, too.

Pham called once to tell her he had shot a man. He says she didn't know what to say, so she replied, "Well, we'll deal with it when you get home."

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

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's been 25 years since the Exxon Valdez ran aground off the coast of Alaska, spilling millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.

The impact on wildlife was devastating. Cleanup crews poured into the nearby port town, also called Valdez, where an animal rescue center was set up.

"The chaos is incredibly difficult to describe or even imagine," says LJ Evans, a local resident who volunteered to help. "Somebody came back with the first bird — the reporters were so frantic, somebody got in a fight trying to take a picture of this poor little oiled bird."

Lisa Garzone married John Joyce in 1994. They had four children together, and at one point, says Lisa, they were best friends. But their marriage ended badly.

"John became alcoholic, and things got volatile," she says, "so we had to have him leave."

John wound up living on the streets. "He stopped showing up for visits. I tried to follow where he was, and I knew that he was homeless — that just always worried me. I didn't want him to die on the streets."

Aaron didn't intend to tell his classmates that he was homeless. But when he recorded his own story with StoryCorpsU — a project designed to help kids in high-needs schools build stronger relationships with their teachers — he says, it just came out.

"I felt ... like a big load was let off," Aaron explains. (NPR has withheld Aaron's last name, at the request of his foster care agency, to protect his privacy.) "I don't know what made me say it, but I'm like, 'Let me just be honest and just get it out.' "

For 40 years, Dean Smith made his living as a stunt double in Hollywood Westerns — including eight Oscar winners and nominees — like True Grit, The Alamo and How The West Was Won.

"I was able to make all the leading men look good," Dean tells his wife Debby in an interview with StoryCorps. And not just men, he adds.

"One time, I doubled [as] Maureen O'Hara. I got the clothes and I got this big red wig. When I got back on the set, they laughed at me and they said my legs didn't look too much like Maureen's," he laughs.

Leo, Nick and Steven Argel are 14-year-old triplets, and they've all been blind since birth.

Growing up in Arlington, Va., their single mother had a hard time caring for them.

New York City firefighters Sophy Medina and Thomas Olsen don't work together very often, but their first Valentine's Day as a couple was an exception. They worked the same fire that night — and then ended up at the same hospital with minor injuries.

"There really wasn't much romantic about the night it was," Tommy tells Sophy, now his fiancee, on a visit to StoryCorps. "I kept coming over. I sat in your bed and was talking to you."

It hasn't been easy for Barbara Amaya to talk about her past. She was abused at home as a child, and when she was 12 she ran away to Washington, D.C. — where she was picked up by sex traffickers and forced into prostitution.

"I fell into the hands of a woman. I was sitting in the park and she just started talking to me," Barbara tells her daughter, Bianca Belteton, on a visit to StoryCorps in Arlington, Va.

At 14, Jeremiah towered over his classmates. His size and his struggle with a learning disability made Jeremiah a target for bullying.

Five years ago, he took his own life.

Since Jeremiah's death, his father, Jeff Lasater, has devoted himself to preventing bullying of special-needs kids.

Alexis D'Luna was born with CHARGE syndrome, a life-threatening genetic condition. She was intellectually disabled, legally blind, had hearing problems and stood just under 5 feet tall because of deformities in her legs and back.

Clayton Sherrod was just 19 in 1964, when he became the executive chef at an all-white club in Birmingham, Ala. Sherrod, who is African-American, had started working in the kitchen there when he was 13, after his father had a heart attack.

"My mother said, 'You can't go back to school. You're going to have to find a job.' So I went to the country club."

It's been 10 years since the writer and monologist Spalding Gray went missing from his home in New York. Two months later, his body was found in the East River in an apparent suicide.

The day he disappeared, his wife, Kathleen Russo, was leaving for work when Gray told her, "OK, goodbye, Honey."

In 1968, Susan Mello Souza and Mary Moran Murphy were teenagers — and both were pregnant. To keep that a secret, their families sent them to St. Mary's Home for Unwed Mothers in Massachusetts, where they lived until they gave birth.

Then, their children were placed for adoption.

This story originally aired on Weekend Edition on Sept. 25, 2011.

As a middle-school student in the 1980s, Lee Buono stayed after school one day to remove the brain and spinal cord from a frog. He did such a good job that his science teacher told him he might become a neurosurgeon someday.

That's exactly what Buono did.

Pages