Sunday Reads: Podcast for veterans and saving stories before they’re lost to time
In case you missed it, Madison Magazine is sharing our introduction to the last month's edition of our monthly 'Sunday Reads' newsletter.
This article originally appeared as the introduction to the November edition of Madison Magazine’s monthly “Sunday Reads” newsletter, curated by Associate Editor Maggie Ginsberg. The rest of the monthly newsletter includes links to other articles within and outside of the magazine, plus book coverage and other literary news around town. Sign up for future newsletters here.
One of the first articles I ever wrote was a 2006 profile on Florian Stamm, one of only 317 survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. The ship carrying 1,196 men was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in July 1945. Stamm floated in shark-invested waters for four days awaiting rescue. Seventy years later, Stamm died a great-great-grandfather at 91, after a long and rich life that he almost didn’t have.
He was living in Mount Horeb when he told me his story for the Mount Horeb Mail newspaper, and it was the first time he’d ever done so publicly. Afterward, I mailed his family a CD of the recorded interview. Then I bought my paternal grandfather — also a WWII Purple Heart veteran — several blank notebooks and how-to books on writing your life’s story. He never did. He’s gone now, as is my maternal grandfather, a WWII Prisoner of War. Like many of that generation, neither liked to talk about their experiences. As much as I respected that, I still deeply regret that I didn’t press either of them harder for stories that are now lost to time forever.
Recently, I was listening to VA Presents: My Life, My Story, a new podcast based on Thor Ringler’s remarkable project of the same name. I’d met Ringler for a November 2017 Madison Magazine story a few years after the “My Life, My Story” project was just getting off the ground at William S. Middleton Memorial Veteran’s Hospital in Madison. Ringler and other volunteers interview vets during their VA stays, then write abbreviated versions of their life stories. Vets can share them with their families, or just keep them in their medical files for caregivers to better understand their patients. The program is now in more than 50 VA hospitals across the country, and in September 2020, Ringler started recording the stories for a podcast.
The moment I saw the 2021 episode in my podcast queue titled, simply, “Florian,” I felt a chill. Sure enough, it was Stamm’s story, as told to Ringler.
I was reminded of this earlier this week, when associate editor Maija Inveiss and I got to talking about her Latvian grandfather; how many stories he has and how many times she’s thought about recording them. I’ll tell you the same thing I told her: Do it. Do it now. You never know when that chance will be gone for good, and those stories gone with them.
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