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NPR Distribution's Senior Solutions Architect Bruce Wahl, pictured with men he commanded in 1970: "This was a joint service unit, so the men in the picture above are from the ARMY, Air Force, Navy and Marines...the skinny guy in the top center of the frame is what I used to look like." (Bruch Wahl/NPR)

StoryCorps and NPR Celebrate Veteran Voices on National Day of Listening

by Megan Johnson
Nov 20, 2012

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Bruce Wahl: "Here I am (on the right) with a Mantegnard lady.  This was on a visit to the local surrounding area in the Central Highlands." Bruce Wahl: "At this location, we broadcast television, AM and FM radio.  Here is a photo of one of our two radio studios.  If you'd like to hear a show that originated in this studio late one night, go to http://www.afvn.tv/audio/BruceWahl.mp3" Holly Fountain, NOC Specialist for NPR Distribution, pictured during her time at boot camp: "My strongest memories from my time in the military of course, was graduating from boot camp. But when I was presented the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on graduation day, it was one of the proudest moments of my life, because it's not something that the Marine Corps simply gives you; you have to earn it." Media Specialist Robert Harris stands with his first ship during the first Gulf War. Holly Fountain says, of this photo taken on her graduation day, "The majority of these remarkable women, I never saw or heard from again after this picture was taken - but I've never forgotten any of them. I am located on the top row in the middle." Bruce Wahl

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For those wanting an alternative way to spend Black Friday, consider doing something that might seem a rather old-fashioned in our rather modern world: sit down with your family or loved one and just talk.

In addition to its notoriously commercial roots, the day after Thanksgiving is also widely celebrated as a National Day of Listening, a project launched in 2008 by StoryCorps to encourage people to take a few minutes during the holiday celebrations and record a conversation with a loved one.

Every year, the StoryCorps team comes up with a theme for the day and this year the focus is on the stories of veterans, active duty military and their families.

Here at NPR we have a handful of our own staff who are veterans or have family members with military experience. To celebrate their service, we gathered a few of their stories and photos to share.

Moscow-based International Correspondent Corey Flintoff recollects a gripping story about his uncle's military service in World War II.

My uncle, Ben Flintoff, was a 26-year-old navigator on the planes that flew cargo over the Himalayas into China during World War Two. It was called "flying over the Hump," and it was as dangerous as almost any combat mission of the war.

Ben told stories of following a silvery trail of wreckage over the mountain ridges, where other planes had crashed in bad weather and inaccessible terrain. Over the course of the mission, the allies lost around 600 planes, with nearly 2,000 crew members and passengers.

Ben survived the nearly constant flying, but the horrendous conditions in airstrips and camps along the way nearly killed him.

When he got back to the States, he was down to 110 pounds on a tall man's frame, and he spent months in an Army hospital getting back in shape.

Ben went on to live a long life as a husband and father who worked as a building maintenance man in Tacoma, Washington. He had a lot of good stories about countries he had seen, and a lively interest in the world.

As he neared 90, his memory largely failed. One thing he remembered to the end was hunching in a freezing cockpit among stark mountains, seeing the flash of aluminum where his comrades had gone down.

Holly Fountain, Specialist in the Network Operations Center, shares some of the bonds she made with her fellow comrades while serving in the Marine Corps.

I served in the United States Marine Corps from 1979 to 1983 and my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was Communication Center Operations. I started out as circuit operator, and by age 22, I was Comm Watch Officer for my shift, supervising 12 military personnel. I attended communications school in Palms, CA and spent the rest of my enlistment at Camp Lejeune, NC.

It gives me a sense of pride to be the only female Marine in my family, but I would love to see another woman in my family enlist one day. I didn't have a woman's perspective of the Corps when I enlisted, and though it worked out for me, it was hard not having someone to look to as a mentor.

The bonds you make with your fellow comrades run very deep, and I am still in touch with a lot of Marines I served with. I also miss the military's "other duties as assigned." One day, you could be doing your regular job, another day you could be told to prepare to go to the rifle range for two weeks, or some other temporary duty that you didn't expect.

The military showed me the value and importance of teamwork, honor and leadership. I learned how to multi-task and do it well even under intense pressure, and it's made me very adaptable to situations. It never leaves you even after you leave the Corps.

Distribution's Bruce Wahl shares some details about his service and recalls the importance of radio and TV while overseas.

I served in the United States Army from 1968 to 1971. After completing Infantry Officers' Candidates School (OCS) at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and receiving a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry, I served the next six months as a Training Officer at a Basic Training Company at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. In December 1969, I was shipped to Vietnam, where I was assigned to Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). I was a Battalion Training Advisor at the Vietnamese Infantry OCS in Thu Duc until April 1970, when I received orders to an assignment at the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN).

I have met fellow veterans who have remarked to me how important the radio and TV services were to them. This is very gratifying, because at times it was difficult to stay on the air. We had to overcome monsoon rains, difficulty in obtaining parts and supplies, not to mention the periodic rocket attacks to our compound. It could be trying at times, but we overcame these obstacles and provided a valuable service to the American and other English-speaking troops.

I think there is one fundamental takeaway from how this experience changed me. While many young people my age were in college, I was in a leadership role in a war zone. I came though this experience stronger, and have held leadership roles ever since. I would not trade this experience for anything, and I am grateful that I had this opportunity. My brother served in Vietnam before me. Both of my grandfathers served in World War II, as did many of my uncles. My father enlisted to serve in WWII, but was not accepted due to a heart murmur. The military was a way of life in my family, and I am proud to have served.

Digital Media's Robert Harris told us about the pride and friendships he gained while in the U.S. Navy.

I served in the US Navy from 1990-2000. During that time I was Electronics Technician Second Class on board USS LaSalle (AGF-3) (based out of Bahrain) during Operation Desert Storm and then on board USS Duluth (LPD-6) during the evacuation of American forces involved in Operation Restore Hope off the coast of Mogadishu, Somalia. Later, I was then selected for appointment to the White House Communications Agency in Washington, D.C., and retrained to serve an Audiovisual Director to President Clinton.

I really came into my own while into the military and learned not only to have pride in my country but pride in myself as well.

I think one of my fondest memories of the military is from my assignment on the USS LaSalle. A few of my closest shipmates (Sean, Paul, Rocky, James, and Andres) and I would go out on liberty in Bahrain and buy an enormous amount of music and go back to the ship, hang out and make 'mixtapes' of our favorite tracks. I still have some of those tapes!

NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos reflects on his years of service in Vietnam.

I was an army lieutenant and combat engineer who served as the engineer advisor on a province advisory team in 1970-71, in Khanh Hoa Province, during the Vietnam War.

We were the "hearts and minds" guys who actually mixed and worked with the Vietnamese. I loved the work and was so drawn to them and to the tragedy of Vietnam that I extended my tour for three months, until finally I figured my luck might run out and it was time for me to go back to my own country.

One of the things I miss most about military life is the sense of duty and giving yourself to something bigger than you. But I am proud that I was able to prove myself as an American through my service. I am an immigrant kid. I joined the army; I was not drafted.


Military Voices on NPR
Starting in December, StoryCorps will also launch its Military Voices Initiative, a project to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. NPR is broadcasting highlights from StoryCorps' initiative as part of a special year-long series, airing once a month on Weekend Edition Saturday.

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