The Veterans Legacy Program is offering a new way for Americans connect with their history. Through the program, VA’s National Cemetery Administration is forging partnerships with academic institutions to engage students and professors alike in discovering the stories of service and sacrifice found in VA’s national cemeteries.
Dr. Amelia Lyons is leading the University of Central Florida’s team researching these stories. her students are researching Florida Veterans who fought in World War I and are interred at Florida National Cemetery. Along with Lyons, Dr. Barbara Gannon and four colleagues are teaching research skills that will help UCF students learn more about Florida history through its Veterans.
Researching Veterans who served a century ago can be challenging. Through archival research, they learn when their assigned Veteran served and when they came back. Using materials such as Census records, marriage certificates, newspapers and genealogical records, students began piecing together the lives of these Veterans. Many soldiers, sailors, and Marines gave the ultimate sacrifice in World War I, but many also came home. Students were able to assemble the Veterans’ post-War lives. Ken Holliday, an Army Veteran, even found that his WWI Veteran had a son who served in WWII, and they are both buried in the same section of Florida National Cemetery. This was not an easy discovery, as the son had changed the spelling of his last name.
Bringing college students to the national cemetery is only half of the program. On May 19, UCF students were at Florida National Cemetery with 150 seventh-graders to teach them about the Veterans who came from their community. For students who otherwise only thought about, say, World War I as “arrows on a map,” they have a new understanding of American history through Veterans. They now think about people from Florida serving in World War I and understand that Americans from every state and territory wore the uniform and contributed to the victory.
The Veterans Legacy Program is also partnering with two other universities, Black Hills State University and San Francisco State University. With each year, we hope to expand this network of partnerships so that more young people can learn how Veterans from their home state impacted world events and built communities.
NCA manages 135 national cemeteries with approximately 3.5 million Veterans interred in them. While students are researching only a small percentage of all our honored Veterans, they have a new understanding of what each gravesite marker represents. The entire cemetery, every cemetery, is full of unique American stories: women and men who changed the world.
VA’s national cemeteries are national shrines where we can gather to honor those who have served in uniform. They are also places where we connect with our community history through the Veteran experience.