The first time Russ Strahan of Oak Brook spoke publicly about his time in Vietnam was when his granddaughter invited him to visit her middle school classroom.
"She was nervous about approaching me," Strahan said. "She said, 'Grandpa, my teacher's looking for someone who was in Vietnam, and I told her I knew someone. Would you be interested?'"
If you goWhat: Veterans Storytelling Event
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17
Where: American Legion Post 187, 310 Butterfield Road, Elmhurst
Register: (630) 279-8696 or elmlib.org/veterans
Strahan didn't hesitate. He told her, "I'll do it for you."
Strahan was in the U.S. Navy from 1961-69, serving as an electronics technician on two different ships during the Vietnam War. Strahan talked to the class and answered questions. It went so well that the teacher invited him to stay for three more classes. One young girl raised her hand and asked, "Did you ever kill anyone?"
"I don't know," Strahan answered.
"Good," she said.
A Veterans Storytelling Event to help people like Strahan share their experiences begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17, at American Legion Post 187, 310 W. Butterfield Road, Elmhurst.
Post Commander John Scudder, a retired first sergeant in the Army who served 30 years, says the event is a way for veterans who served in a variety of ways to share their stories with the community. The event is presented by the American Legion Post and the Elmhurst Public Library.
"The American Legion is an important resource in our community," said Kimberly Calkins, programming coordinator at Elmhurst Public Library. "It provides an important connection to the veterans in our community, giving crucial support to those coming back from service. This event is a great way to celebrate the bravery and service of these great men and women."
The roster of storytellers will prepare their stories under the mentorship of Scott Whitehair, founder of Story Lab Chicago.
Whitehair created Story Lab Chicago in 2011. He is an international storyteller, producer and instructor living in Chicago and has been featured on NPR, on the Risk! Podcast and on Sirius XM, and is a two-time Moth Slam Winner.
"(Storytelling) is about connection," Whitehair said. "In a world where we're often pulled apart by technology or geography, it's a chance to come together and talk to each other. Hearing their story gives us a chance to walk in their shoes, understand them for a moment."
Whitehair recalls seeing a teenager in deep conversation with an 85-year-old storyteller.
"They were totally connecting over a story," he said. "At the heart of it, we're all humans."
Whitehair does storytelling events for all ages, for businesses, and creative purposes, but, to him, the veteran storytelling events are uniquely memorable.
"It's an honor for me to have a small part in helping vets have a platform to tell their stories. These are not stories you normally get to hear," he said. "This is history from people who lived it."
The Veterans Storytelling Event is free. Register by calling (630) 279-8696 or visiting elmlib.org/veterans.