A Military Mother Remembers Her Son Who Died By Suicide
Army Specialist Robert Joseph Allen grew up in a military family, and followed the family tradition when he enlisted during his early 20s. He served for three years, including a deployment to Iraq with the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
After returning stateside, he lived with his wife and their two sons while stationed in Washington. Two years later — on August 2, 2012 — he died by suicide. That year saw the highest rate of active-duty military suicides ever recorded — more soldiers died from suicide than combat.
His mother, Cathy Sprigg, sat down with StoryCorps in Tampa, Florida to remember him.
Top photo: Cathy Sprigg with her son, Army Specialist Robert Joseph Allen, at Tampa International Airport in 2010. Allen was headed back to Iraq after being on leave for the birth of his son. Courtesy of Cathy Sprigg.
Bottom photo: Cathy Sprigg and her son, Army Specialist Robert Joseph Allen, dancing at his wedding in 2009. Courtesy of Cathy Sprigg.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or just needs someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Originally aired May 26, 2018, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. It was rebroadcast on May 28, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Military Voices Initiative
How did you come to serve in the military? What is your proudest moment? During your service, can you recall times when you were afraid? What are your strongest memories from your time in the military? What lessons did you learn from this time in your life?
The Military Voices Initiative provides a platform for veterans, service members, and military families to share their stories. In doing so we honor their voices, amplify their experiences, and let them know that we—as a nation—are listening.
For more than a decade, 2.4 million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan while millions of families have stood behind them at home. The military community knows well the challenges of multiple deployments, combat-injuries, and long-awaited homecomings. Yet few civilians truly understand the complex realities of our troops’ service and sacrifice.
|Maine Public & StoryCorps Lunch & Learn||Portland, Maine||March 9, 2023|
|Alaska Public Media & StoryCorps Lunch & Learn||Anchorage, Alaska||March 23, 2023|
Recording Days in 2023
In 2023, StoryCorps will partner with local stations in the following cities to record stories of veterans and their families in person and in our “virtual recording booth.” Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on when and how to register to record your story, and prepare for your interview with this collection of suggested questions to ask your conversation partner.
|Maine (Virtual)||April 24 – April 28||Book an appointment|
|Portland, Maine (In-Person)||May 29 – June 2||Book an appointment|
Alaska Public Media
|Alaska (Virtual)||May 8 – May 12||Book an appointment|
|Anchorage, Alaska (In-Person)||July 24 – July 28||Book an appointment|
Georgia Public Broadcasting
|Georgia (Virtual)||July 10 – July 14||Book an appointment|
|Savannah, Georgia (In-Person)||August 7 – August 11||Book an appointment|
Not in a city that we’ll be visiting? You can record anywhere with the StoryCorps App. Learn more here.
Featured Stories from the Military Voices Initiative
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‘We Don’t Talk About it Much’: Remembering the 241 U.S. Service Members Lost During the Beirut Bombing of 1983
James Edward Brown is one of the survivors of the Beirut Bombing.
On October 23, 1983, 241 U.S. service members were killed in the terrorist attack on Marine barracks in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. It was the largest single-day loss of life for the Marines since World War II, and the deadliest terror attack on American citizens prior to September 11, 2001.
Navy hospital corpsman Brown was 200 yards away from the barracks when the bomb detonated.
He came to StoryCorps in Pensacola with his friend and fellow Beirut veteran, Mike Cline, to remember the day of the attack.
In 2018, on the 35th anniversary of the bombing, Ed Brown walked 24.1 miles per day for a month to remember the 241 service members lost in the bombing.
Top photo: Rescuers probe the wreckage of the U.S. Marine command, Monday, Oct. 24, 1983 in a Beirut building that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb. AP Photo/Zouki.
Middle photo: Mike Cline and James Edward Brown pose at their StoryCorps interview on April 30, 2019 in Pensacola, FL. By Joseph Vincenza/WUWF.
Bottom photo: James Edward Brown is photographed during his 540-mile trek from Jacksonville, FL to Jacksonville, NC in October 2018. On his march, Ed walked 24.1 miles per day to honor the 241 soldiers killed in the bombing. Courtesy James Edward Brown.
Originally aired May 24, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
The Man Who Disabled Two Hydrogen Bombs Dropped in North Carolina
On January 24, 1961, a U.S. B-52 bomber was flying over rural North Carolina when fuel started to leak, the plane snapped apart, and the two hydrogen bombs it was carrying fell into a tobacco field. If detonated, these 3.8-megaton weapons would have had an impact 250 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Lieutenant Jack ReVelle, a munitions expert who was 25 at the time, was the man called to the scene. His job was to make sure the bombs didn’t explode.
He came to StoryCorps with his daughter, Karen, to remember those harrowing eight days.
Top photo: Four of the “terrible ten” – from ReVelle’s team – observe the retrieval of the second bomb’s parachute pack from inside a hole they dug over the course of eight days. Photo courtesy of the United States Air Force.
Middle photo: The first hydrogen bomb in January 1961. Photo courtesy of the United States Air Force.
Middle photo: 24-year-old First Lieutenant Jack ReVelle in 1960, the year before the incident in North Carolina. ReVelle worked in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). Photo courtesy of the United States Air Force.
Bottom photo: Jack ReVelle and Karen ReVelle at their StoryCorps interview in Santa Ana, CA. Photo by Kevin Oliver for StoryCorps.
Originally aired January 25, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
In the US 50 Years, a Man Reflects on His Arrival from Honduras
A half-century ago, Roy Daley was 23 years old and living in the capital of Honduras when a friend offered him a job in the United States. So he immigrated with little more than two shirts and a change of pants.
Roy came to StoryCorps with his wife, Ana, and his daughter, Lucy, to talk about his early days in America.
Top photo: Roy Daley with his wife, Ana Smith-Daley (L) and his daughter Lucy Figueroa (R) at the StoryCorps MobileBooth in Austin, TX. By Savannah Winchester for StoryCorps.
Originally aired November 23rd, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Friends During the Vietnam War Reunite Almost 50 Years After
Back in 1967, close to 500,000 US troops were serving in Vietnam, including Kay Lee and John Nordeen. Kay was 22, a combat medic from San Francisco. John was 20, and a soldier from Seattle. They were assigned to the same Army platoon and became fast friends.
But the two lost touch after the war. For years, John tried to find his old friend. They finally reunited in 2015 on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, a Chinese lunar holiday that celebrates family, gratitude and reunions.
And 50 years later, John and Kay sat down at StoryCorps to remember how they first met.
Top photo: Kay Lee and John Nordeen on October 30, 2018 after their StoryCorps interview in San Francisco, CA. By Susan Lee for StoryCorps.
Middle photo: Kay Lee and John Nordeen in 1967 during the Vietnam War. Courtesy of John Nordeen.
Originally aired November 16, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Olivia J. Hooker, Pioneer and First Black Woman in the Coast Guard
In November 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law a bill that established the United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. Known as SPARS, this new law allowed women to serve in the Coast Guard Reserve for the duration of World War II plus six months. Two years later, in October 1944, the ban on Black women becoming SPARS was lifted and in February 1945, Olivia Hooker joined four other women as the first class of Black SPARS.
An Oklahoma native, Olivia didn’t know anything about boats at the time she enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve. Joining her fellow SPARS at boot camp in Manhattan Beach, New York, a month after enlisting, she went on to spend her service time in Boston where she worked at a Coast Guard separation center. When the war ended, the SPARS program was disbanded and Olivia returned to civilian life having earned the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class, as well as a Good Conduct Award.
Following her military service, Olivia earned her master’s degree in psychology and in 1961 she received her PhD. When President Barack Obama spoke at the United States Coast Guard Academy commencement ceremony in 2015, Dr. Hooker, 100 years old at the time, was sitting in the front row. As the cadets listened, President Obama called her “an inspiration” for the remarkable life she had led, and shared with the graduates her belief that, “It’s not about you, or me. It’s about what we can give to this world.”
In September 2018, At 103 years old, Dr. Hooker sat down for a StoryCorps interview with her goddaughter Janis Porter, to talk about what it was like to be a groundbreaking part of military history, and to share what her time in the service has meant to her. She passed away two months after this interview.
On Veterans Day 2018, StoryCorps collaborated with Google and YouTube on an animated Doodle featuring a voice representing each branch of the military, including Olivia’s. Explore it here.
Top photo: Dr. Olivia J. Hooker (right) and her goddaughter, Janis Porter. Photo by Afi Yellow-Duke for StoryCorps.
Middle Photo: From the original caption for the extra photo: Olivia Hooker (in front) and fellow SPAR Aileen Anita Cooks, pause on the ladder of the dry-land ship ‘U.S.S. Neversail’ during their ‘boot’ training at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Station, Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, NY, 1945.
Originally aired February 28, 2020 on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Olympic Gold Medalist Melvin Pender on the 1968 Mexico Games
Melvin Pender didn’t lace up his first pair of running shoes until he was 25 years old, while enlisted in the U.S. Army as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.
So when he got the call to compete in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, it was a message he never had thought would come: at the time, Officer Pender was 31 years old and a platoon leader deployed in the jungles of Vietnam.
Many records were shattered at the games, but it’s the Black Power salute made on the podium by Tommie Smith and John Carlos that captured the headlines.
Pender was Carlos’ roommate at the games. At StoryCorps, Pender spoke with his friend Keith Sims about his experience at the Olympics.
Melvin Pender ultimately won a gold medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay race in the 1968 Olympics.
Soon after Mexico City, he was sent back to Vietnam, where he earned a bronze star for his service. He and John Carlos remain friends to this day.
Top photo: Keith Sims and Melvin Pender pose at their StoryCorps interview in Atlanta, Georgia on September 13, 2018. Photo by Kelly Moffitt for StoryCorps.
Second photo: Melvin Pender competes in the 100 meter race during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Here, he leads the group in the center. Courtesy Melvin and Debbie Pender.
Third photo: Melvin Pender receives the hand-off in the 4 x 100 meter relay during the 1968 Olympics, for which he won a gold medal. Courtesy Melvin and Debbie Pender.
Bottom photo: Melvin Pender receives a bronze star for his service in Vietnam on May 5, 1970. Courtesy Melvin and Debbie Pender.
Originally aired October 12, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
A Soldier on Suffering from PTSD and Finding a Home in Fashion
Army Specialist Duane Topping served three tours in Iraq before medically retiring in 2012.
Although he comes across as a tough guy with his tattoos and leather jacket, while deployed he found comfort from an unlikely place. Duane came to StoryCorps with his wife, Jamie Topping, to recall the difficulties of transitioning to civilian life while struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Today, Duane and Jamie run a successful design house out of Denver, Colorado. In September, they returned home from their first official show at New York Fashion Week.
Top photo: Jamie and Duane Topping pose during their StoryCorps interview in the Topping Designs studio in Wheat Ridge, Colorado on May 17, 2018. Photo by Mia Warren for StoryCorps.
Middle photo: Duane Topping poses in Kuwait while deployed as an Army Specialist in 2006, during his second deployment to Iraq. Courtesy of Duane Topping.
Bottom photo: Duane Topping works at his design studio in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Photo by Mia Warren for StoryCorps.
Originally aired October 6, 2018, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
Best Friends and Vietnam-era Vets on Their Shared Sisterhood
Sue McConnell and Kristyn Weed are best friends and Vietnam-era veterans. Although they didn’t serve in the war together, they share a story of courage — on and off the battlefield.
At StoryCorps, they talked about their other shared sisterhood.
Top photo: Sue McConnell (left) and Kristyn Weed at their StoryCorps interview in Tucson, Arizona. By Mia Warren for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Sue McConnell (left) and Kristyn Weed are regulars at Denny’s in Tucson, Arizona, where the best friends say they often talk for hours. Courtesy of Kristyn Weed.
A version of this story aired June 30, 2018, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. It was rebroadcast on August 17, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.