BUSHNELL, Fla. — Part of the promise of serving the country is helping family members plan and pay for a service member’s burial or memorial service. One program hopes to take veterans’ legacy a step further.

What You Need To Know

  • The Veterans Legacy Program is where veteran Jim Stoddard captures gravestones, collects coordinates, and writes service members’ biographies

  • He wants everyone to have access to what these men and women did for the country

  • Stoddard felt a special connection with one fallen veteran after meeting with his family

“There’s countless guys—men and women out here, everyone one of them has their own story,” Jim Stoddard said.

This is the first time the U.S. veteran is visiting Sgt. Christian Williams’ grave.

“For me, with Christian, I felt a personal connection. We’re both Marines, we both served at the same time, we served in the same country,” he said.

Shuffling through the pages, each one describing a little more of who Williams was. Talking with Stoddard, you can feel the connection.

“We didn’t overlap in our time in Iraq. He was there in 2006, I was there 2007-2008," Stoddard said. "Did different jobs, had a different chain of command, had different buddies, but I’m confident that if we had known each other there would have been a brotherhood connection because we’re Marines.” 

His work is all a part of the Veterans Legacy Program. Stoddard captures gravestones, collects coordinates, and writes service members’ biographies. It’s so everyone has access to what these men and women did for the country.

“It’s our hope that researching and writing about these veterans so they aren’t forgotten in that way,” Stoddard said.

But what makes Williams’ story even more unique is this is the first time Stoddard was able to interview the actual family of the veteran he’s researching.

“To talk to a human as a source compared to reading a document as a source it’s a whole other ballgame. It’s really powerful. You get the level of detail that you can’t get from a census record and an enlistment card. You’re not going to get the personal stories you’d get from a mother, a sister, or a comrade,” Stoddard said.

As Stoddard continues learning and sharing about the rows and rows of men and women who served the country, the final promise for each of these service members is a burial or memorial at a national cemetery.

“It’s important to remember that there are places where veterans are interred and what a National Cemetery is," Stoddard said. "Why they exist. Why they’re all uniformed like this. Everybody is the same here. It’s not distinguished between ranks or how someone died or anything like that. You’re equal in service and equal in death.”

While Stoddard may have never met Williams in-person, his story resonates. And Stoddard said he feels it’s his responsibility to share it.