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Veterans Share Their Stories In "The Telling Project"

This week, KLRN Public Television and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts present “The Telling Project,” a unique theatrical experience that gives veterans the opportunity to tell their own story in front of a live audience.

“The Telling Project” began life in 2007 when playwright Jonathan Wei began to notice a striking disconnect between the civilian and military population. Or to put it another way, it's unlikely the average person knows what it's really like on the inside for members of the armed forces and their families.

“We had been doing [civilian-military] outreach in various different capacities and formats for a few years, and essentially getting the same group of people to come over and over again,” Wei recalls. “They were people who were already interested in the military, or who already had a connection to the military. What we wanted to do was bring in a larger group of civilians who basically had no connection to the military.”

Wei came upon the idea of a theatrical experience for “The Telling Project” because “theater puts people in the same room with one another.” Secondly, Wei continues, “every element of military experience in some ways is kept at a distance in the larger cultural conversation. What we’ve done [with ‘The Telling Project’] is create a space in which all those things have a home. And they’re both accepted and expected.”

Since then, "The Telling Project" has traveled to cities across the country to encourage veterans to tell their untold stories to the community at large.

Ten veterans will share their experiences on stage at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, October 1-5. Texas Public Radio is collaborating with KLRN to bring you excerpts from these veterans’ extraordinary narratives in their own words. The powerful first-person statements below are but a sliver of the larger picture of these veterans' lives. We encourage you to learn more online at The Telling Project, through KLRN’s website, and in person at the Tobin Center.

Credit KLRN
Salina Loriaux

Salina Loriaux grew up in New York and was working as a graphic designer on September 11, 2001, an event she says "changed her life." She served in the United States Army as a Korean Linguist, Intelligence Analyst. After her husband, an Army Reservist, was injured by a roadside bomb, she found herself at Brooke Army Medical Center as a service member and military spouse. There, Salina saw the healing power of art. She ended up getting a master's degree in Creative Art Therapy from the Pratt Institute. The Army may have also provided something unexpected for Salina and her husband--a sense of continual discovery. "Maybe someday we'll sit down and tell each other the details," Salina says about their military stories. "It's funny, because we've been married for some time now and we'll be like 'Hey, I didn't know that about you!' Well gosh, we've had two deployments in our marriage, and so that makes it easy to not know everything about each other."

Credit KLRN
Thomas Crane

Thomas J. Crane was born in San Antonio, and served 28 years in the Army, Army Reserve and National Guard. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his time in Iraq in 2006, and served in the Infantry and Civil Affairs branches. "I always liked the military...as a very young boy in San Antonio. You learn teamwork. You learn leadership. You give up part of yourself for something greater, and you're a better person for it." Tom is the father of two sons, and has practiced law in San Antonio since 1989.

"You win a war like Iraq by working with the locals. Period. You don't win otherwise. It's a public relations war. You can kill all the bad guys you want, and you still won't win."

Thomas Crane talks about Civil Affairs work in Iraq, and how the military strengthened him.

Credit KLRN
Jules Vaquera

Jules Vaquera, having no money for college, enlisted in the United States Air Force on the advice of her sister, and served from 2000-2006. During her time abroad, she was stationed at Abu Ghraib, just a few years after shocking abuse of detainees was uncovered. She witnessed no torture, but says the conditions in the prison were deplorable, and that many were held under questionable authority. "All we have to do is sign a piece of paper saying you're a threat to the U.S. or Coalition forces, and we got your ass for six months. You'd never get to see a judge." In her testimony, Vaquera recalls her feelings about the enemy while she was abroad, and how her opinion about the Iraq War changed upon returning home. Today, Jules spends her time at the Overtime Theater where she performs and participates as a "worker bee" to further the nonprofit theater's mission of creating live, local theater.

"I hate being thanked for my service. I hate it. The things I've done do not deserve thanks. They deserve punishment, if anything."

Jules Vaquera talks about her changing attitude toward the Iraq War.

Credit KLRN
Donna Engeman

Donna Engeman was born into the military, and has spent nearly her entire life around the Army. Her father was stationed at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and she grew up in Minnesota. Not long after enlisting in the Army in 1981, she met her husband John, an Army mechanic, and the two married in 1983. For the next 23 years, Donna followed John through various military assignments. John was in Iraq when Donna earned a college degree in 2006. He even got to see her walk the stage through an Internet feed. But the next day, Donna awoke to two uniformed visitors on her doorstep. John had been killed by an improvised explosive device. He had been on active duty for over 28 years. 

"I lost more than my husband that day. I lost my best friend. I lost my champion. I lost my lover. And I lost my identity. I had never seen or known John outside of the Army. I identified with being his wife and being an Army wife. I felt so unsheltered."

Today Donna supports her other surviving family members and dotes on her two beautiful granddaughters. 

Donna Engeman remembers what it was like to lose her husband, Sgt. John Engeman.

"One hundred fifty years from now, when I'm gone and our whole family is gone, I hope there's somebody out there reciting his name, and the name of all of our fallen." --Donna Engeman


See and hear these veterans tell their own stories onstage at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts from October 1-5. KLRN will feature "The Telling Project" on-air in November with a special Veteran's Day broadcast of the stage performances. You can find out more about KLRN's Veterans Voices project online at their website.

Below, hear a full-length interview with The Telling Project's founder and Executive Director, Jonathan Wei. In the interview, Wei recalls the genesis of The Telling Project, and shares some of the surprising things he has learned since beginning the initiative.

Full length interview with The Telling Project's Executive Director, Jonathan Wei.

Nathan has been with TPR since 1995, when he began working on classical music station KPAC 88.3 FM, as host of “Tuesday Night at the Opera.” He soon learned the ropes on KSTX 89.1 FM, and volunteered to work practically any shift that came his way, on either station. He worked in nearly every capacity on the radio before moving into Community Engagement, Marketing, and Digital Media. His reporting and criticism has been honored by the Houston Press Club and Texas Associated Press.