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Her father's wartime piano accompanied joyful moments


It's time now for StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative, recording and sharing the stories of service members and their families. During World War II, Steinway & Sons at first couldn't make pianos because of restrictions on copper, brass and other materials. Then it won a contract to build special instruments called Victory Verticals, lightweight uprights that used less metal and that soldiers could play in their encampments.

LORETTA BERNING: They had to be strong enough to be dropped by parachute without breaking. They also had to be small enough to fit in submarines.

SIMON: Loretta Berning grew up with one of these pianos. Her father had brought it home to Alexandria, Va., after serving as an Air Force pilot in the war. She came to StoryCorps to talk about her father and their cherished Victory Vertical.

BERNING: My dad was an excellent pilot and a marvelous musician. He had a mustache. He looked very suave. His forte was playing the saxophone and charming the ladies. And I remember he would sing "O Sole Mio" (ph) in the shower. This was a man who was just happy with life. The whole atmosphere changed when he was around. It was like, now there's going to be fun. You know, a lot of people bring home stray pets and stuff. My father would bring home musical instruments, like this piano. It had fallen out of the Army truck. They didn't want to fix it. So he just said, give it to me. I want it. I just knew it was a funny-looking little band piano that was sturdy as a rock. And it played beautifully.

When I was little, we had everything that we could put a band together down in our basement. It was like a speakeasy. At one end was a bar, and then at the other end of the basement was where the piano was. And they had parties. It was mostly fellow servicemen that he worked with and he knew. They gather and drink and jam. We didn't know what was going on except that they were having a good time.

And when he came home from work, one of the first questions he'd ask my mother is, did the girls tickle the ivories today? But he passed when I was 8. He was flying to the Air Force base. And on touchdown they had a tire blow, and they hit about five airplanes. And of course, as the years went by, the piano became even more special because he was gone. And it was special to me because it was something my dad thought was special. I'm old, and my hands are not working as well as they did. But I'm grateful. I feel like I'm with him when I'm involved with the piano. I feel like when I'm tickling the ivories, we're connected.


SIMON: That was Loretta Berning in Mandeville, La., for her StoryCorps, remembering her father, Harold Martin (ph). Her father's piano was lost after Hurricane Katrina. And even though Steinway only produced around 3,000 Victory Vertical pianos, she hopes to find another one.

This interview will be archived at the U.S. Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jey Born