St. Ambrose University to document and honor the legacy local veterans in year-long research

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 11:19 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2021 at 10:38 PM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - St. Ambrose University on Wednesday said it is leading a year-long research project to honor veterans and their legacies.

The St. Ambrose University Veterans Recruitment and Services Office said they are going to collect and share the stories of 300 veterans interred at the Rock Island National Cemetery. Those profiled will have participated in some capacity to uphold American freedom and ideals in a war or conflict dating from the Civil War.

“All of the graves look the same regardless of rank or background or wealth or religion. But there is a story behind each one,” said St. Ambrose University Professor of Education Dale Blesz, Ph.D. “In some cases, we have some really interesting people buried there who have lived pretty interesting lives. But for the most part, they are ordinary people, some who died very young, who did extraordinary things. There is something sacred about that,” he said.

In all, 500 kits will be printed and donated to K-12 schools and public libraries throughout the region. In addition, the website will be directly accessible to anyone in the world and searchable by more than name, which Woodhurst said currently is the only way to search any National Cemetery database, St Ambrose University said in a media release.

Natalie Woodhurst, the university’s coordinator for Veterans Recruitment and Services and 2016 graduate, is co-directing the project with Blesz.

Woodhurst said the project will hire 20 St. Ambrose University student interns who will spend the next 10 months scouring military records, library archives, books, and newspaper clippings — and, when possible, interview family and friends — to learn about each veteran’s participation and role in the military and their challenges and successes in life. That information will be used to create a curriculum kit holding 300 cards with biographical information about the veteran, including name, rank, branch on the front, and a short bio, photograph, and a QR code on the back.

The QR code will lead to a page on a website that will provide more information about the veteran, their service, and their life, St. Ambrose University said.

Woodhurst estimates it will take 3,000 hours of research for the student interns to gather all of the information, and then write and post it to the website. In addition, Blesz said the St. Ambrose University School of Education is making sure the kits, and lesson plans they create and make available to educators, meet National Council for Social Studies curriculum requirements.

The University’s Veterans Legacy Project committee will choose the 300 veterans to profile and some will likely include medal recipients; former Illinois Congressman Lane Evans, a US Marine who served in the Vietnam War; John Junior Willie, an American Indian who served as a Navajo Code Talker in World War II; US Navy veteran Eugene Baker, the Chicago Cubs’ second Black player, St. Ambosrse Univertoy said.

In addition, the deck of 300 cards will feature veterans who lived quiet lives in and outside of their military service, and contributed just as much to the world, Woodhurst said.

St. Ambrose University said the 500 kits will be donated and delivered to K-12 schools and public libraries throughout the region and the finished project will be publicly unveiled and celebrated on Veterans Day 2022.

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