Loretta Berning’s father, Air Force Pilot Major Harold Martin, spent most of World War II training other pilots stateside. But just after the war he was stationed in Germany, flying relief supplies to Allies trapped behind Soviet lines in Berlin.
Harold was also an accomplished musician, playing saxophone in Big Band Jazz groups. Loretta and her younger sister grew up in a house full of music and were expected to learn the piano from a young age.
Harold Martin (5th from the Left in the back row) posing for a photo with Purvis Henson and his orchestra at Macdill Air Force Base in 1947. Photo courtesy of Loretta Berning.
While in Germany, Harold had found a rare and precious object that he had flown back to the States after his tour. It was a Victory Vertical Piano, made by the Steinway and Sons piano makers. In 1942 Steinway was tapped to make war-proof pianos for troops in the field. In total they made about 2,500 pianos built to be strong enough to be dropped out of supply planes, resistant to the humidity of the Pacific, and small enough to fit on submarines. Each piano was delivered by parachute from a supply plane.
Loretta Berning, age 15, pictured with the family’s Victory Vertical piano.
When Harold brought the piano home after the war, it was one of the few to make the roundtrip journey back to the States. For Loretta, it was a lifelong reminder of her father and his love of music.
Top Photo: Loretta Berning at her StoryCorps interview in Mandeville, LA on May 11th, 2022. By Katie Fernelius for StoryCorps.
Originally aired July 30th, 2022, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.
This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.