The husband of Baylor University’s new president is about to return to a previous chapter in his teaching career, and he’s looking for any World War II veterans willing to help him kick off his first year back at the school where he started his career more than 20 years ago.
Brad Livingstone will return to Vanguard College Preparatory School this fall to teach history and government courses for juniors and seniors. Before he left in 2002, Livingstone started a World War II history course aimed at connecting students with living history by bringing in members of the “Greatest Generation,” and now he wants to restart the course.
There are just two issues. He doesn’t have anyone lined up to speak yet, and World War II veterans alive and in good enough health to share their stories are becoming more difficult to find, he said.
“I’m ecstatic,” Livingstone said. “It was one of those things where, when my wife and I knew we were coming back to Waco but we couldn’t tell anybody because there was a certain day it was going to be released, I went immediately to (Vanguard’s) website, and Linda (Livingstone) did, too. There was an open history position, and I said, ‘OK God, this is too good. Please don’t let them make a decision.’ ”
The course started in the mid-’90s after students told Livingstone they wanted to take an elective history class. He asked what subject they wanted to dive deep into and eventually settled on World War II.
A military buff himself, this was a chance to take his interest to a new level, something more personal, he said. He never expected how much it would catch on, he said.
He didn’t initially plan to build the class around guest speakers. On the anniversary of D-Day the year the course was starting, he saw a newscast about a paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne Division who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. The soldier gave a charismatic and animated speech, and Livingstone reached out to him about speaking to his class, he said.
“He was my very first World War II guest speaker, and when he came and spoke, I looked around at the students,” Livingstone said. “These are teenagers right? You could have heard a pin drop. They were on the edge of their seats, and I quickly realized this is the foundation of the World War II class.”
Neal Beaty, a 1995 Vanguard graduate who helped start the class during his senior year, said Livingstone was a nice fit and became the first teacher he encountered who had a passion for what he was studying. Though they didn’t have many speakers that first year, Beaty said Livingstone made it memorable by taking the class to Corpus Christi to tour the U.S.S. Lexington.
Beaty learned Livingstone was returning after Vanguard made a post to its Facebook page, he said.
‘My favorite memory’
“It was a wonderful surprise,” he said. “It’s a real opportunity for those kids. My favorite memory is from walking around the hangar deck of a World War II carrier and watching him light up like a kid in a candy store. I’ll never forget that.”
From there, Livingstone put the word out looking for veterans to volunteer. The school was flooded with calls and eventually established a pool of about 35 veterans who would come any given semester to speak.
Some had never shared their stories before, so their children and grandchildren would often attend. The class realized quickly they should document the moments and set up a video camera.
“These are tough men and women, too, who would come in and all of a sudden those emotions they had compartmentalized for decades came to the surface,” Livingstone said. “Young people started understanding and appreciating the elderly again because they realized what they had done and what they had sacrificed when they were my students’ age.”
He brought in individuals who survived Pearl Harbor, who fought at Iwo Jima, prisoners of war including Olympian Louis Zamperini, who was captured by the Japanese navy, Livingstone said. He also had German and Japanese soldiers and an occasional Holocaust survivor or two, including one imprisoned in the same concentration camp as Anne Frank.
Livingstone taught a similar class in California, then in Washington, D.C., after he left Vanguard in 2002.
By the time he got to D.C., he was encouraging his students to inquire about World War II service and to thank veterans.
“They’re not going to be around much longer, which is why this is so imperative,” Livingstone said. “The very first day, I’ll ask students how many of you have met a World War II veteran, and very few have or it’s never entered their minds.”
Possible field trips
If he can find enough veterans, Vanguard students will learn some of the same lessons in history this year, he said. There might even be the chance to have a few World War II-focused field trips to see the local veterans’ hospital, Fort Hood, museums, movies, re-enactments and more, Vanguard Head of School Bill Borg said.
“It’s many of those outside of the core curriculum classes we teach here: those things we think help to instill in kids, and today it’s critical, an appreciation for learning,” Borg said. “We want them to have a passion and love for dialogue and learning.”
Livingstone said he is looking for as many local veterans as he can find and will to what he can to accommodate veterans from outside the county. He has flown in, picked up and even paid for hotel rooms for veterans and made breakfast for them, and he’s willing to do it again, he said.
“Bill has been so gracious, because this is the first time I’ve ever been the first gentleman of Baylor University,” Livingstone said. “I don’t really know what that means yet. . . . He’s allowed me to come in and be sensitive to the schedule because, of course, I’ll be spending quite a bit of time at Baylor as well.”
World War II veterans interested in speaking to Livingstone’s class can call Vanguard at 772-8111 or email Livingstone at brad_livingstone@ vanguard.org.