June 14, 2024

The UCF Veterans Legacy Program is continuing its important work of memorializing veterans with the second annual UCF VLP Institute. This program is a partnership between the University of Central Florida Veterans Legacy Program (UCF VLP) and the Veterans Administration’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA). The UCF VLP Institute is a week-long immersive program designed to provide K-12 educators with the tools and knowledge needed to effectively teach history through the stories of veterans in their classrooms. This year, the second annual institute focuses on honoring World War II veterans.

The UCF VLP Institute program is currently taking place at the historic St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine. It offers a comprehensive combination of historical exploration and practical curriculum strategies. The program, designed with the needs of educators in mind, includes interactive activities such as digital escape rooms, mini-themed tours of St. Augustine National Cemetery, workshops on oral history techniques, digital tools, complex history, and field trip planning in a National Cemetery. These activities deepen educators’ understanding of history and enhance their teaching methodologies, providing them with practical tools and strategies they can immediately implement in their classrooms.

This year’s program involves both returning teachers and new participants, each contributing diverse perspectives and experiences. Two teachers took their K-12 classes on field trips to national cemeteries, helping students to deepen their understanding and connection to the stories they are working on and sharing at the Institute.

“”Being here just a week after the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings,” UCF History Professor Amelia Lyons explains, “reminds us how important it is to tell the stories of veterans who died in service and cannot tell us their own stories. Our teachers will tell their students about Gold Star families, illuminating Floridians’ contributions to the Allied victories in WWII.””

Speakers at the Institute include UCF’s Amy Larner Giroux, who leads efforts to uncover the identities and experiences of Native American warriors held captive at Fort Marion. Giroux has worked  since 2017 “to restore the names of these men” buried in St. Augustine National Cemetery.  For Giroux, her research has helped restore their honor. “People deserve to be remembered,” she explains. “When someone’s name is lost to time, it bothers me.”

UCF VLP also welcomed Andrew Carroll, founder and director of the Center for American War Letters, to offer valuable insights about why collecting and preserving war correspondence matters.

“”When we think of war memorials and monuments, we often envision these grand structures of stone and steel,” says Carroll. ”But to me, these letters –fragile and delicate as some of them are–are in some ways the most powerful and enduring tribute to these men and women because most of all they humanize them to us – they’re not just sailors or marines. They are somebody’s child, in many cases, a parent themselves, somebody’s spouse, somebody’s sweetheart, a best friend. Through these letters, we see them. We hear their voices. We hear their stories.”

The Institute also features guided tours of St. Augustine’s landmarks and includes sessions on how the returning K-12 teacher’s deliverables from last year’s Institute materialized in the classroom over the last school year. The program aims to bring veterans into the K-12 classroom to teach and inspire the next generation.

“”The history of America’s veterans is the history of America,” says Jim Stoddard, USMC Veteran, UCF T&T PhD candidate and UCF VLP team member. “The VLP Institute brings Veterans into the K-12 classroom, calling them into service once more, but this time it is to teach and inspire the next generation.”

The UCF VLP podcast – produced by graduate student and podcast producer for UCF History Sebastian Garcia – also returns to the Institute this year. Garcia explains how “Podcasting affords the UCF VLP Team another opportunity to preserve and democratize the researched Veterans and their stories.” Garcia won the Hampton Digital Media Award for last year’s UCF VLP podcast series, and he excitedly explains that “discussing how the returning K-12 teacher’s deliverables from last year’s Institute materialized in the classroom over the last school year is the defining feature of this year’s edition of the podcast.”

In addition to academic sessions, educators enjoy guided tours of St. Augustine’s iconic landmarks, such as the Castillo San Marcos. Giroux leads a tour detailing the captivity of the Plains Indians in the fort 150 years ago, providing a deeper understanding of historical events.

“To walk in the places where the Plains warriors walked gives us an opportunity to see what they would have seen,” says Giroux. “Being forcibly removed from the Plains and brought to Fort Marion put them into such an alien environment. We cannot feel what they felt, but it brings us slightly closer.”

UCF students and K-12 educators conducted thorough research to assist in the creation of biographies for publication on UCF VLP’s website. One of the featured veterans this year is Clifford Phillips, who served in the 6th Marine Division in the Pacific theater during WWII. Clifford took part in the amphibious assault of Okinawa, which began on April 1, 1945. His division secured the island’s northern half and later joined other divisions in attacking the southern half. During the fight to capture Horseshoe Ridge, a crucial position in the Japanese defensive perimeter known as the Shuri Line, Clifford was killed in action on May 21, 1945, during a Japanese counterattack. Initially interred in Okinawa, he now rests among his fellow veterans in Section D, Site 177 of the St. Augustine National Cemetery.

For more information about UCF VLP, you can visit the Institute’s program at http://tinyurl.com/UCFVLPInstitute2024 or the program’s website at https://vlp.cah.ucf.edu.