Sharing LGBT stories with StoryCorps: I’m so thankful for everything you’ve done
As part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington on April 25, 1993, the Task Force is joining with StoryCorps to share real-life stories about LGBT people as we approach that anniversary date.
Today we share the story of Staff Sergeant Tracy Johnson, an Iraq veteran and an Army widow. She is also believed to be the first gay spouse to lose her partner at war since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She married her long-time partner, Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson, on Valentines day in 2012. In October, Donna was killed by a suicide bomber while serving in Khost, Afghanistan. At StoryCorps, Tracy talked with her mother-in-law, Sandra Johnson, about finding out that their wife and daughter wasn’t coming home.
Tracy Johnson (TJ): That day, I had a bad feeling. I immediately started scouring the news websites, and it said that there were three US soldiers killed in Khost, Afghanistan, and I knew obviously that’s where she was stationed.
Sandra Johnson (SJ): So how did you get notified?
TJ: I knew that any communication about Donna was gonna come to you guys, because, even though we were married, I wasn’t considered her next of kin. So Donna’s sister called me and told me that the military people were there. So I grabbed a copy of our marriage certificate. I went to your place, and I said, “You know, I’m her… her wife. And I brought documentation.” The Notification Officer looks at it, and then he looks at me, and he looks at it again and he goes, “Can I have a copy of this?” And when a soldier’s fallen, they usually have a military escort that brings them home. And I said, “Can I do it, because I’m military?” He goes, “Well, We’ll see.” But I know it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for your insistence.
SJ: I just… I did not want her coming home with a stranger. I wanted her coming home to family.
TJ: I was flown up to Dover to see her brought back on American soil. And honestly, I can’t tell you how great of an honor it is to escort a fallen hero home, but then when that hero is your wife, it means a lot more. And uh, I was given all her awards, and all her personal documents that I had to turn over to you. And one of the hardest things for me was our wedding ring. I actually slept with it that night. I put her ring on with mine (laughs) because I thought it was going to be the last time I was going to get to see it.
SJ: Wow. I gave you your… your ring back. I thought that was only natural. Because I don’t know how the Army or any military does it, I just know what’s fair is fair.
TJ: You know, I’m so thankful for everything you’ve done. You allowed me to be named as a spouse in the obituary. Being given a flag in a private ceremony before the funeral, being given a second copy of all her awards, being allowed to sit in the front pew, and pretty much being treated as family the entire time, cause in reality…
SJ: In reality, you married my daughter and that was it.
TJ: But if anybody else were in my shoes, they could’ve been completely shut out and not had anything. So I understand how blessed I am to be a part of your family.
SJ: Well, I want you to know that I’m very proud of you. I consider you mine, because Donna considered you hers. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can listen to the full audio here.
Since 2003, tens of thousands of everyday people have shared their life experiences in a StoryCorps recording session. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to our weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and at storycorps.org. Since its start-up, StoryCorps has:
- Recorded more than 45,000 interviews with nearly 90,000 people nationwide.
- Visited all 50 states and hundreds of cities with our traveling MobileBooth, StoryKit Program, and Door-to-Door Service.
- Created the National Day of Listening to encourage people to record and preserve interviews with loved ones during the holiday season using our free Do-It-Yourself Recording Guide at nationaldayoflistening.org.
- Received a Peabody Award, the highest honor in broadcast journalism.