NPR StoryCorps

Facing persecution, violence, lack of health care and myriad other barriers to safety, millions of refugees leave home each year seeking a better life in a different country.

As of 2017, more than 2 million Somalis have been displaced, in one of the world's worst refugee crises, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

In July of 2011, just two months before "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, Navy Operations Specialist Sean Sala says he felt like he had to "get even" after serving under a policy that barred openly LGBTQ people like him from the military.

Tina Dietz grew up in North Dakota, in the sleepy, rural town of Mandan. But to her, it felt like a battle zone.

"I thought parents screamed at each other all the time," Dietz, now 38, tells her partner, Patrick Conteh, in a 2018 StoryCorps interview. "I didn't know any different."

Yet one silver lining shone brightly over the gloom: visits to her great-aunt Shirley's farm.

"It was just 60 miles," Dietz says. "I knew that road like the back of my hand. Every mile marker we passed, I was one minute closer to just being loved."

Many dangers await migrants who attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. Hundreds die each year, faced with dehydration, hypothermia and drowning. Many more go missing along the route, separated from their group.

Maria Ochoa is part of an organization called the Tucson Samaritans. She helps migrants along the way who are stranded or in danger. She brings them food, water and medical assistance.

This Sunday, as sisters Estela and Candi Reyes mark Father's Day, they will be thinking of their dad, Juan, who died in 2010.

Juan Reyes was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1940s, eventually settling his family in El Paso, Texas. Estela, 50, and Candi, 46, adored their dad, and at StoryCorps in 2012, they recall the lasting influence he had on them.

"Papito era lo máximo," Estela said. "He was everything to us."

Growing up in El Paso, Estela remembers Juan was a "tough guy."

Fifty years ago this month, police raided a gay bar in New York City called the Stonewall Inn.

It was a common occurrence at the time, but on this night, patrons – trans women of color, lesbians, drag queens and gay men – said "enough." The raid ignited six days of protests and became known as the Stonewall Riots – largely credited with sparking the modern gay rights movement.

This week at StoryCorps, we remember William "Lynn" Weaver, one of StoryCorps' most frequent participants. Weaver died at the age of 69 on Saturday.

We first heard from Weaver in 2007. In that conversation, Weaver remembered his father, a janitor and chauffeur in Knoxville, Tenn., who learned algebra one night from a textbook so that he could help his son, who was struggling with his homework.

After World War II broke out, 26-year-old Gilbert Seltzer enlisted into the Army.

Soon after, he was told he was being put on a secret mission — and an unconventional one at that.

Seltzer, then an architectural draftsman, was selected to lead a platoon of men within a unit dubbed the "Ghost Army." Made up mostly of artists, creatives and engineers, the unit would go on to play an instrumental role in securing victory in Europe for the U.S. and its allies.

Editor's note: This story contains some graphic descriptions of injuries that some readers may find disturbing.

On Oct. 23, 1983, Navy hospital corpsman James Edward Brown survived one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on Americans.

When a bomb detonated at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Brown was at his post in the sick hall on the Marine compound — about 200 yards away.

At the time, 1,800 Marines were stationed in the city during the Lebanese Civil War.

Fifteen years ago, David Wilson and his husband Rob Compton were one of the first same-sex couples to marry in the U.S.

If it had been up to Wilson and Compton, their union would've been recognized years before that. Frustrated by the injustice, both men became plaintiffs in a lawsuit that led to Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriage on May 17, 2004.

They married in Boston at City Hall and at their church that same day.

Sada Jackson lost her mother, Ileana Watson, to breast cancer in 2016.

There are many things Sada, now a mother herself, wonders about her late mom. So at StoryCorps, she sat with Ileana's best friend, Angela Morehead-Mugita, to learn more. "I want to know more about my mom, as a woman, because I only knew her as Mom," says Sada, 35.

Angela, 55, says she and Ileana were each other's emotional support during vulnerable moments. When Ileana was facing cancer for the second time – when Sada was pregnant — she broke down to her friend, saying, "I may not see my grandbaby."

After surviving the Holocaust, Judel and Pauline Schuster resettled in Buffalo, N.Y., to start a family.

This Holocaust Remembrance Week, two of their children, Abe and Esther Schuster, reflect on their parents' joyful view of life in a recent StoryCorps conversation.

That philosophy didn't always mean following the rules.

Abe said that one evening when he was in high school, he introduced his parents to his calculus teacher and her husband at a neighborhood restaurant.

Lisa Bouler Daniels, 52, grew up knowing she was adopted. Seven years ago, she began searching for her birth family.

By the time she found them, her birth mother had died. So had her adoptive mother.

She tracked down her half brother, Benjamin Chambers, and showed up at his church in the Chicago suburbs.

"I kinda ambushed you," Daniels told Chambers, now 37, in an interview at StoryCorps in December.

Chambers grew up as one of four children. He had no clue that he had another sibling.

"It was shocking," he remembers.

Editor's note: This story contains language that some may find offensive.

On the morning of April 20, 1999, 16-year-old sophomore Lauren Cartaya escaped quickly from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., after two students began opening fire.

Lauren's older brother, Zach, then a 17-year-old senior, hid for three hours in an empty classroom with his classmates. The gunmen killed 13 people and themselves in what was then considered the largest mass shooting at a high school.

Last year, 33-year-old Walker Hughes — who has autism and is minimally verbal — was rushed to the hospital after he tried a new medication that made him agitated.

"We're driving at rush hour and my sweet guy is screaming and grabbing me and we're just scared to death," Walker's mom, Ellen Hughes, now 69, said in a StoryCorps interview recorded in February. "This is not the guy I know at all."

Growing up in a Catholic family in El Paso, Texas, during the 1950s, Dee Westenhauser had a hard time fitting in. "I knew I was a girl," says Westenhauser. But she couldn't share her true identity with anyone in her family.

Last year, at the age of 63, Westenhauser came out as a transgender woman. On a visit to StoryCorps in February, she fondly remembers how her late aunt helped her feel comfortable in her own skin.

It's been 20 years since Carolyn DeFord, a member of the Puyallup tribe, last saw her mother, Leona Kinsey in La Grande, Ore.

DeFord was raised by Kinsey in a trailer park in La Grande. She remembers her mother as independent and self-sufficient, working odd jobs to scrape by.

Miriam Pratt was five years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. She remembers that after her father, Seattle Urban League leader Edwin Pratt, found out, he paced back and forth in his bedroom.

"He was emotional," Pratt's daughter tells Jean Soliz, her godmother, at StoryCorps. "I had never seen him like that."

Nine months later, her father would suffer the same fate. On a snowy night in 1969, Edwin was shot in his home, while Miriam and her mother, Bettye, were inside.

Shotzy Harrison grew up not really knowing her dad, James Flavy Coy Brown.

He was in and out of her life. James, who has been treated for multiple mental conditions, spent most of his adult life homeless. Once, Shotzy, now 30, found him living in the woods behind a hotel.

At StoryCorps in 2013, the two had reunited, and he had moved in with her and her two daughters in Winston-Salem, N.C. But her dad's presence was short-lived. and they would lose touch again that same year.

In the summer of 1981 in Louisiana, Liz Barnez, then, 16 and Lori Daigle, then 17, shared a secret kiss.

"I actually remember that first kiss," Daigle tells Barnez in a StoryCorps conversation. "We drove out to the parking lot of Lake Pontchartrain, and I remember never being so afraid and so excited in my entire life."

They had met the year before as athletes on competing Catholic high school teams. There was an instant spark.

Army veteran Sgt. Mickey Willenbring has always been a fighter. She grew up shuffling between homes — with her parents on the West Coast, with family on Native American reservations in the upper Midwest and within the foster care system across the country — during an adolescence she describes as sometimes violent.

But the military struck Willenbring as a way to channel the aggression she says built up during an unstable upbringing. In 1998, Willenbring, then 20, enlisted in the Army and deployed to Iraq five years later.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's Friday, which means StoryCorps. And this morning, we hear from a family who lived inside a library. Back in the 1940s, custodians who worked in the New York Public Library often lived in the buildings with their families. Ronald Clark's father, Raymond, was one of those custodians. And for three decades, he lived with his family on the top floor of a branch in Upper Manhattan. At StoryCorps, Ronald told his daughter how growing up in the library shaped the man he would become.

Husband and wife Larry and Sharon Adams have spent the past 20 years bringing boarded-up homes in their Milwaukee neighborhood back to life.

The love they share for their community grew out of their love for each other. During a StoryCorps interview in October, Larry, now 65, and Sharon, 72, remember how they first met.

It was 1997, and Sharon had just moved back to her childhood home on North 17th Street in Milwaukee's Lindsay Heights neighborhood. But like several other properties in the neighborhood, it needed some work.

This story is part of the StoryCorps series of conversations.

Last Valentine's Day, Maya Altman stepped out of her freshman biology class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when she heard booming sounds.

Rodger McDaniel was 21 years old when his father died.

His dad, Johnny McDaniel, worked over the years as a miner and milk truck driver, married and divorced Rodger's mother three times – and he loved music.

Rodger remembers his beautiful singing and his shiny, black guitar.

"Even though my father didn't have much of a formal education, he taught himself to play the guitar by ear," Rodger, 70, tells StoryCorps in Laramie, Wyo.

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