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Federal VA Grant Supports Voices of the Heartland Sharing Life Stories of Underrepresented WWII, Civil War Veterans

By Jeff Murphy, August 14, 2023

The Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Higginsville is part of a federal grant-funded project that will involve research documenting the life stories of underrpresented veterans. 

WARRENSBURG, MO – Within a half-hour drive of the University of Central Missouri, rows of neatly-placed headstones line the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Higginsville honoring individuals who served in the United States military. With only small bits of information etched into each of the hundreds of gray granite monuments that dot this vast burial ground, the life stories of many underrepresented World War II veterans mostly remain untold. This will soon change, however, thanks to a $399,000 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) grant that will also cover project work at Fort Scott National Cemetery in Fort Scott, Kansas. 

UCM Professor of History Jon Taylor, Ph.D., is guiding the Veteran Voices of the Heartland pilot project, which begins this month and continues through September 2024 in cooperation with the Midwest Genealogy Center (MGC) at the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Missouri, and the Greater Kansas City Writing Project. UCM History and Instructional Technology graduate students and a number of Missouri and Kansas educators and students in grades seven through 12 also will be involved in various aspects of the project as it moves forward. Lauren Hays, Ph.D., associate professor of instructional technology at UCM, and Katie Kline, director of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project, serve as co-principal investigators on the project. Hays will direct UCM students as they use digital technology to capture images of the cemeteries and headstones in Higginsville. Kline will coordinate a one-day spring professional development seminar for secondary teachers in Fort Scott and a summer institute for secondary teachers.

This is the first time Veterans Legacy Grants Program (VLGP) has awarded funds for such a project at either of these cemeteries, according to the VA. The VLGP is intended to “support educational institutions and other eligible entities to conduct cemetery research and produce educational tools for the public to utilize and learn about the histories of veterans interred in VA national cemeteries and VA grant-funded State and Tribal Veterans’ cemeteries.”

Taylor said it is known that African American and Indigenous individuals are interred at Fort Scott where the project focus will be on documenting information about Civil War veterans. The emphasis at the Higginsville location will be on underrepresented veterans who served the United States in World War II.

“Primarily in the fall, graduate students will identify specific veterans in cemeteries in Higginsville and Fort Scott and begin to craft biographies about these individuals,” Taylor said, adding that these soldiers are yet to be identified.

He noted Fort Scott National Cemetery already has a list of Civil War veterans, including Buffalo Soldiers and indigenous soldiers who served in the Civil War era or on the Great Plains. While the Missouri Veterans Cemetery offers good opportunities to do research on much more recent service members, a lot of work still must be done to cultivate information into biographies for all of the military veterans whose stories will be documented. This will be a very challenging task with a “lot of moving parts,” Taylor said. 

“Most people may think this is relatively easy to find out, but it’s not,” he noted in talking about the documentation process. “The headstones only give you a certain amount of information. They also (veterans) were not buried in a systematic way.”

One of the key elements of this project is to make available to the public digital biographies, which Taylor hopes to eventually share along with information about state cemeteries on the Historic Missouri website, available through a free app. 

Once biographies are written, the research that went into producing them will help provide a foundation in which the UCM team will work with the Midwest Genealogy Center to draft a handbook for 7-12 teachers to use in their classrooms. This will serve as a tool to provide information about how to conduct primary and secondary research on veterans and convert it into meaningful biographies, according to the grant proposal.

In spring 2024, UCM will work in partnership with MGC to host a one-day workshop in Fort Scott, where the handbook will be debuted to teachers to learn more about steps for completing veteran biographies.

A summer institute hosted by MGC follows in Independence. This event engages middle and high school teachers in opportunities to gain hands-on experience conducting research about a veteran interred at one of the cemeteries in Fort Scott and Higginsville. Offering a wide range of professional development opportunities for teachers, the Greater Kansas City Writing Project (GKCWP) also will be involved in this effort. Teachers who participate will complete a series of lesson plans related to researching and writing about veterans.

Taylor worked with UCM’s Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Integrity to successfully apply for federal funds in support of Veteran Voices of the Heartland. This effort also will include participation from students and faculty members in the university’s Department of Educational Technology and Library Science, and additional support provided by KMOS-TV, the university’s public broadcasting station.

Individuals who want to know more about Veteran Voices of the Heartland are welcome to contact Taylor at


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