STEVE INSKEEP, host:

While Jerri Truhill was preparing for a possible space flight, James Dowling was serving in the U.S. Army. He fought in three wars, and not long ago, his family remembered him for StoryCorps, our project that records American conversations.

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INSKEEP: James Dowling fought in World War II and in Korea. And in 1966, he was sent to Vietnam for a one-year tour. His wife stayed behind with three daughters in elementary school. Two of those daughters, Ellen Hess and Eileen Tarr, still remember when he left.

Ms. EILEEN TARR: The day that we put him on the plane in the Pittsburgh airport was one of the saddest days of my life.

Ms. ELLEN HESS: You were so depressed about it. You couldn't even go back to school for the afternoon. I went to school. The day went by and all I could think about was dad stepping on that plane to go to Vietnam. And I cannot remember many days that went by either that I didn't think about him and worry about him.

Ms. TARR: When Bob Hope was on, Mom parked us in front of the TV set hoping we would see him and that we would be able to say that Dad looked okay. You know, I remember her loneliness about being separated from Dad. And I remember when she made that chain out of 365 safety pins; and every day he was gone, she would take a safety pin off. When she first put it up, it was on a lamp…

Ms. HESS: was a standing lamp.

Ms. TARR: It actually was…

Ms. HESS: Wrapped around it.

Ms. TARR: …wrapped around it, and there was a pool on the floor, you know.

Ms. HESS: I can remember watching the chain with her and feeling excited as it was really getting smaller

Ms. TARR: And they were like benchmarks or milestones, like when it no longer pooled or when it no longer wrapped. You know, and she wrote him a letter every day, and when she was done writing the letter, she would take the pin off of the chain. Unless, like, it was your birthday, and then you got to take the pin off. Or if something special had happened at school, she would let you take the pin off of the chain. And she kept all those pins, just like she kept all his letters from Vietnam, until he returned.

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INSKEEP: Ellen Hess with her sister Eileen Tarr in Richmond, Virginia. Their father James Dowling survived the Vietnam War and he was awarded the Bronze Star for Bravery.

This StoryCorps interview will be archived with all the others at the Library of Congress, and you can subscribe to the StoryCorps podcast by going to npr.org.

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