ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The names carved into the tombstones at the St. Augustine National Cemetery are decades old, but students and staff at the University of Central Florida are making sure the soldiers are not forgotten.
UCF’s Veterans Legacy Program researches the lives of veterans to share their stories. To do this, they scour newspaper articles, obituaries, public records, databases and contact local historians.
“Especially with more than 100 years passing, there aren’t family members who tell those stories anymore,” Amelia Lyons, a UCF history professor who runs the Veterans Legacy Program, said. Lyons said the stories they uncover are then incorporated into lesson plans used in K-12 classrooms.
One of the groups the UCF team focused on this year was African American soldiers in WWI.
“Who served in a segregated Army in the Jim Crow South,” Lyons said.
The team’s visit to St. Augustine coincided with the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.
Of the 55 African American soldiers buried in the cemetery, UCF students wrote biographies for 17.
Marie Oury, a UCF graduate student in the Veterans Legacy Program, described the experience as exciting and emotional at the same time.
“You’re basically bringing back someone from the [dead],” Oury said. “They fought for democracy. Which, especially for the African Americans, was maybe an ideal but that wasn’t something that they really enjoyed back at home.”
While the work of the program helps keep veterans from the past alive, Lyons said it’s also a way to honor the veterans in each of their lives.
“Both my grandfathers fought in the Second World War, my father who passed away four years ago was a Vietnam veteran,” she said. “And so it’s very moving to me to be able to do this kind of work as a legacy to my own father.”