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“American Veteran” – Isolation and Family

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Continuing our celebration of those who served, Arkansas PBS is highlighting some of the featured veterans as well as local Arkansan veterans. From those who fought in the Second World War to more recent conflicts like the War in Iraq, those who serve represent a vast multitude of individuals. See our full blog post to read some of their stories and find out how you can listen to the “American Veteran”  podcast as well as watch our additional digital features.


For many Americans, the military represents opportunities for a better life. This, too, was the case for Brandon D. Anderson when he joined the United States Army. Born in Oklahoma City, Anderson was a homeless youth and relied on selling drugs to get by before joining the military. He thrived in basic training and rose through the ranks to private first class, but he eventually found the Army to be isolating. One isolating factor was that Anderson and one other soldier were alone in the middle of the desert building troubleshooting satellites. Adding to this factor was the fact that he was a Black, queer man serving during the time of "don't ask, don't tell," which prohibited those serving from being open about being attracted to the same sex. This led to Anderson leading a sort of double life when he served during the Second Iraq War.


This life came crashing down for Anderson after learning that his fiancé was shot and killed stateside by police. This led him to tell the truth about why he was requesting leave, which led to him being discharged as per the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” After fighting for and winning an honorable discharge, Anderson decided to turn his tragedy into change. He then attended and graduated from Georgetown University and founded Raheem — the first independent service for reporting police in the United States. His loneliness in the Army has since propelled him forward into his new life, saying that " ... we don't live in a world by ourselves."


Parnell Fisher, an Arkansan veteran, felt almost the opposite during his time of service. Born in Benton, Arkansas, Fisher enlisted in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. “The first time I got my first-class citizenship … was when I joined the military,” Fisher said. This was during 1950 when he joined up and felt equal with all the other recruits regardless of race.


Fisher and others enlisting nearby at the time  were given passage on a train to San Antonio, Texas, where they received their basic training. Overall, he found it to be more interesting than intimidating. In his interview, Parnell discusses how the bonds between the soldiers and their teamwork come together during war, a far cry from the isolation that Anderson felt during his time.


Another Air Force veteran, Nell Bright, also discusses her time in service in “American Veteran.” Starting flying lessons at 19, Bright became one of 1,074 women to earn her wings during World War II. After becoming part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Bright spent time test flying planes and serving as target practice for male pilots and clocked in 800 hours overall.


This harsh, and highly dangerous job was the only one available to women during the time in the Air Force. After the war was over, Bright and many others had nowhere to turn as there were no longer positions for women to fly in the military or elsewhere. She and her fellow WASPs had to fight for more than 30 years to simply receive veteran status, which they won in 2010. Even after her career in the Air Force, she continued to shine and became one of the first female stockbrokers in Phoenix, Arizona.


Arkansan Tom LaGinja, born in Southwest Pennsylvania, was one of the many drafted during the Vietnam War. Rather than enlisting in the army, which only required two years, LaGinja joined up with the Navy, which had a four-year enlistment. “If I’m going to break up my life and do something different for a while, why not do something really different,” LaGinja said. He talks about how, after being drafted and before heading over, he felt how unfair it was for him to be perfectly safe stateside while there were soldiers fighting and dying in Vietnam. This sentiment helped propel him through his service and into the war.


Continue exploring the stories of U.S. and Arkansas veterans this November. In addition to tuning in for a wide range of “American Veteran” content, you can also hear local veterans stories on the Arkansas PBS YouTube channel.



“American Veteran”

Tuesdays at 8 p.m. through Nov. 16, 2021


“Worth Fighting For”

Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021

Our veterans’ lives are worth fighting for, and that struggle is intensifying as suicide rates rise.

Share your questions about veteran suicide prevention with our “Worth Fighting For” expert panel for a chance to hear them answered on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m.



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“American Veteran: Keep It Close”

Biweekly episodes Sept. 7, 2021, - Jan. 11, 2022

Accompanying the “American Veteran” television specials is a 10-part digital video series produced by Blue Chalk. Called “American Veteran: Keep It Close,” it features veterans discussing items they brought with them during their service and those they brought back home. This series highlights the human tendency to have keepsakes and will help to bridge the gap between civilians and veterans. The series will be posted on the PBS Voices YouTube Channel bi-weekly from Sept. 7 through Jan. 11.


“American Veteran” Podcast

Tuesdays through Dec. 14

Another aspect of the “American Veteran” project is an accompanying podcast series. It will include nine episodes that each feature a different veteran discussing their time in the military. The series features a variety of stories, ranging from an Army nurse serving in Vietnam to a satellite technician serving as a gay man during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era. The podcasts are hosted by Phil Klay, a Marine Corps veteran featured in the “American Veteran” television series and can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Audible. A new podcast will be posted every Tuesday until Dec. 14.


“Arkansas Veterans” YouTube Playlist

Arkansas PBS has also compiled a list of our veteran content to celebrate those who served. This includes a variety of content from different programs about veterans from programs and projects including “Veterans Coming Home,” “The Vietnam War” and more. Explore content from Arkansas Vietnam veterans sharing their stories to interesting programs started to help veterans. To learn more about local veterans, please, feel free to browse our content here.


Funding for "American Veteran" is provided by The Wexner Family Charitable Fund, Battelle Memorial Institute, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and Analog Devices.


Funding for “Worth Fighting For” is provided by AARP Arkansas. Additional funding for veteran-related programming on Arkansas PBS is provided by Wreaths Across America. 


About the author: Ryan Bradford is a journalism and history major studying at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) and is currently interning with the Arkansas PBS marketing department. Ryan has traveled to and lived in many different states before coming back to his home state of Arkansas, where he hopes to pursue a career in history.