On Nov. 15, 2003, Vietnam War veterans Dale Throneberry and Bob Gould went on the air to broadcast a new show they had come up with — a show they thought was long overdue. They called it “Veterans Radio.” Operating as volunteers with no budget or funding, they used the facilities of WSDS, a tiny Ypsilanti radio station. Using equipment considered prehistoric today, and fighting off cats that wandered over their control board, the two interviewed leaders of veterans organizations. There were kinks, but Throneberry and Gould, former insurance salesmen, considered the launch a success.
So they did another program the next week. This month, 400-plus programs later, is their 10th anniversary. These days, they broadcast from Ave Maria Radio studios at WDEO 990 AM in Ann Arbor, on four other stations in the U.S., and online, from 9-10 a.m. (EST) every Saturday.
Ten years — 10 years — of talking to veterans and scores more who have played various roles on the military stage. Where do you start?
How about that program featuring Yung Krall, whose father was representing the Viet Cong in the Soviet Union while she was operating as a CIA and FBI spy? Or the Korean War vet who during his interview suddenly remembered an experience at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill he had repressed for more than 50 years? Or the other Korean vet who survived the slaughter by Chinese troops at the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, when he was just one of nine of 300 left alive from his battalion ?
One Vietnam War sniper broke into tears. World War II vets shared tales from Normandy and Auschwitz. Women veterans, Tuskegee Airmen, and those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan also have found a voice on Veterans Radio.
More famous visitors include legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager; Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame; Major Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, navigator of the Enola Gay when it dropped the first atomic bomb; Sen. John Kerry; and more. Also, author Dwight Jon Zimmerman hosts “At Ease,” a weekly program on Veterans Radio about books and authors.
Veterans Radio has been an emotional experience for the hosts. “We did a program on Arlington Cemetery that made me cry,” says Throneberry, 67, who served with the 195th Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam in 1969. But he cried harder when one listener called in to say he had served during World War II with Throneberry’s father, who had died when Throneberry was 15.
“This is not your vanilla veterans program,” says Gould, 70, who was an Army Airborne medic in the early 1960s. He likes to call Veterans Radio “the History Channel” of radio. A third major sponsor and team member early on was Gary Lillie, a U.S. Navy Seabee who served during the Vietnam War. He was killed in 2011 by a drunken driver, and his death was a shock to Throneberry and Gould.
For a time, they wondered if they should continue; budgets were tight, and sponsors were few. “Plus,” Throneberry says, “I was exhausted.
“But we decided that what we’re doing is so important. And what else was I going to do? I was retired, and I thought, ‘Do I want to plant a garden the rest of my life?’ Veterans’ affairs had become so important. People do different things to help. I won’t be the guy who builds the memorial. But I can … let people know what’s happening, so they can help.”
Throneberry and Gould get emails from people — not just veterans — from around the world. Veterans Radio reaches an estimated 200,000 of the nation’s 22 million veterans a month.
The station’s variety of programs keeps the show “fresh.” Says Throneberry, “We don’t get stuck in this continual churning of [depressing] stories about ineptitude and failure.” They said from the beginning this would not be a whiner’s program. “Our job is to let veterans tell their stories, and to tell other stories that are uplifting. They went through hell, came out, and somehow made a life. So it’s the human spirit we’re talking about here.
“We’re trying to move ourselves into the present,” he adds, “and talk more to today’s young veterans. I’m finding they’re very similar to Vietnam vets. When they come home, they don’t want to talk about it; they don’t think people will understand.”
Throneberry, in fact, has his own stories about being shot down twice during combat. He knows the inclination not to talk; these guys never do. But on Veterans Radio, they’re given the order: Stop being modest. Your stories reveal the sacrifice of military duty and represent those of comrades who didn’t make it back home.
“People need to understand … veterans are just regular people who answered the call,” Gould says.