Robert (Robbie) Shackelford

A Director’s Reflection: “Be the Difference – Never Again”

One of the most important projects that the Harding University in Florence (HUF) students are involved in are the “Be the Difference – Never Again” assignments. The on-site portion of the assignments include visits to the Florence American WWII Cemetery; the village of Campagna near Salerno, where Jews were interned during WWII; as well as Paestum, one of the landing sites of U.S. forces in Operation Avalanche in southern Italy.

harding studentsOver ten years ago I read Elizabeth Bettina’s book, It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust, and immediately contacted her, asking her to come speak to my students on her next visit to Italy! We immediately started talking with our students about honoring the Italians who helped save Jews and other unwanted by fascist and Nazi forces in WWII for their bravery for their bravery in saving the lives of Jews and others unwanted by fascist and Nazi forces. Shortly after, we began to do the same thing honoring those who died fighting in Italy during WWII, as well as honoring U.S. military veterans still living.

I had been taking my HUF students to the WW II cemetery outside of Florence since 1990 but with the “Be the Difference – Never Again” program it took on a whole new meaning and purpose. Elizabeth Bettina wanted these stories of people risking their lives to save others to inspire us today and wanted students to learn to be the difference by taking action for others in our modern time. Over 1,000 HUF students have participated in this active project.

Harding Students CemeteryThe “Be the Difference-Never Again” concept really came to fruition when I attended the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz in 2015 with Elizabeth Bettina. Elizabeth received an email during the visit from a Holocaust survivor who had been saved in Italy. In his email, he showed pictures of the American cemeteries across Europe.

Each cemetery’s picture had information about how many soldiers were buried and how many were listed as Missing in Action. Elizabeth said, “We need to honor these soldiers!!”  She envisioned each student getting the name of a soldier to research so that the students could have a true understanding that this was an individual with a family, friends and whose life ended because of war. This is exactly what we do in our program at HUF. The goal is to make these soldiers come alive to each student. Students learn to see them as real people and not just statistics.

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"If you are not indifferent - things can be different."
"We must remember - not to forget."

Elizabeth Bettina