[AAACE-NLA] July 4th: VESL for Victory and Independence
Catherine B. King
cb.king at verizon.net
Mon Jun 25 08:25:36 EDT 2007
>From a bit of a lurker here, thank you for telling your father's story--it puts an altogether different light on the present.
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From: CALL4Literacy at aol.com
To: aaace-nla at lists.literacytent.org
Sent: Sunday, June 24, 2007 10:31 PM
Subject: Re: [AAACE-NLA] July 4th: VESL for Victory and Independence
The historical information here has personal meaning to me because my father was drafted into the U.S. Army even though he was not a U.S. citizen. He went through special training and was sent to Cornell University, I believe, to learn Italian. He already knew English and Spanish and could read and write.
He was a trouble-shooter whose job was to set up and take down telephone lines. He began his service in North Africa. Somewhere on a ship, maybe off the shore of Africa, on the Mediterranean I imagine, he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.
Now...if he could only survive the war.
His company was moved into southern Italy and, as I understood it, were the first of soldiers in history to capture Rome from the south. Unfortunately, because D-Day happened near the same time, no one paid much attention to what the army had done at Rome.
My father passed away in February 2006...so I can't check on all the facts here. I'm just glad you mentioned those soldiers who, without knowing the language or culture, but who understood the cause, went to war for victory and independence. A lot of people don't know that non-citizens were drafted into the military. My father said that the war changed his life. He knew that, until he became engaged in World War II, he was just another poor kid from Mexico whose family was living from day-to-day.
After the war ended, the world became a place of greater opportunities. I am sure that this was the case for many of the immigrants who were educated and changed by the war...in a number of ways.
Jose L. Cruz
Chief Executive Officer
San Diego Council on Literacy
2515 Camino del Rio South, Suite 125
San Diego, CA 92108
619-574-1641, ext. 103
jcruz at literacysandiego.org
June 23, 2007
July 4th: VESL for Victory and Independence
International Consultant in Adult Education
Freedom and independence are never free. They are won by those willing to
stand up and work for these bedrock human values.
Twice in the 20th century the people of the United States rose up to defend
their freedom and independence. Among these people were hundreds of
thousands of immigrants who came to the United States to gain these human
rights and who then often found themselves fighting their own countrymen to
keep these rights.
To rapidly teach the English language and literacy during wartime the Army
followed a practice today called VESL: Vocational
English-as-a-Second-Language. In this educational method, English language
instruction and vocational instruction are taught concurrently, in an
integrated manner. In both World Wars I and II the teaching of English was
integrated with the teaching of military-related and morale-building
information to help the soldiers learn and perform their jobs better.
VESL in World War I 1917
1. See Uncle Sam.
2. U.S. stands for Uncle Sam.
3. U.S. stands for United States.
4. Uncle Sam stands for United States.
5. U.S.A. stands for United States of America.
6. I am for Uncle Sam.
7. I am for the United States of America.
8. I stand for Uncle Sam.
9. Uncle Sam stands for me.
10. I am an American.
11. See me stand for Uncle Sam.
This is the second lesson in the "Camp Reader for American Soldiers"
(Spaeth, 1919) used by thousands of foreign-born men who entered the Army
in World War I and needed to learn the English language. In the first
lesson, the men learned to say, "I am an American."
Used to teach literacy and the English language in what were called
Development Battalions, the Camp Reader was written by J. Duncan Spaeth,
Professor of English, Princeton University, and Educational Director, Army
Y. M. C. A. at Camp Wheeler in Georgia and Camp Jackson in South Carolina.
The book is the first book I have found that was intended to teach both
native-born illiterates and foreign-born immigrants to read and write the
English language. It also includes the first Teacher's Manual that presents
a theoretical understanding of conversational and written English, including
an introduction to "The Phonetic System of Reading" and an Appendix which
serves as a separate Teacher's Manual for those instructing non-English
During World War I some 500,000 immigrants were drafted and thousands more
volunteered for service (Ford, 2001, p. 137). While not all needed to learn
English, tens of thousands did need to and did. One of those who volunteered
for the Army was Louis Van Iersel, who was born in the Netherlands. He
learned English with the help of the Y.M.C.A. and went to war in Germany.
There he was credited for heroism which saved the lives of a thousand men
and he was awarded America's highest military recognition, the Medal of
Honor (Ford, 2001, p. 140).
VESL in World War II 1943
World War II saw the nation once again enlisting hundreds of thousands of
men with no or very low literacy skills and others of foreign birth who
could speak and/or write little or no English. Once again, as in World War
I, Special Training Units were established to teach literacy and English
language to these soldiers.
One of the tools developed for teaching men to read and write was a
newspaper entitled "Our War." In the April 1943 issue there is a comic
strip which features Private Pete and his pal, Daffy, both fictional
characters who are in a Special Training Unit learning to read and write.
This strip also features Pedro, a friend of Pete and Daffy, who cannot
speak good English, but is nonetheless a good soldier. In the strip, Pete
and Daffy save Pedro from going A.W.O.L. (absent without leave) by
explaining what A.W.O.L. means. They offer to help Pedro whenever he is not
sure about something, illustrating how soldiers from different cultural and
language backgrounds can work together.
In another issue of "Our War" Private Porfirio C. Gutierrez, a soldier in a
Special Training Unit wrote a letter home and said, "This is my first
letter in English. I have learned to read and write so that I can help
protect our country." By the war's end, over a quarter million troops had
been taught literacy and/or English language in the Special Training Units.
VESL for Today's Immigrants
Today, many programs for those learning the English language follow a
similar approach to that of the Army in World Wars I and II and embed or
integrate the teaching of English within the functional context of
vocational training. These VESL programs continue to help thousands of
non-English speaking immigrants achieve social and economic freedom and
independence in their newly chosen homeland.
When we celebrate Independence Day this July 4th, we can be grateful that
the torch in the hand of the Statue of Liberty still shines and still
stands as a beacon for those escaping oppression, terrorism, and poverty.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the past fought, and many died, so
we could keep the torch of liberty beaming. Our freedom and independence is
intact and thousands of new immigrants arrive each day to enjoy these human
rights. But these rights are under attack still today, and sadly many of
the new immigrants, like their forebears, will die fighting so that their
families and their new American neighbors can continue to enjoy freedom and
But freedom and independence are never free.
Ford, N. G. (2001). Americans All! Foreign-born Soldiers in World War I.
College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press.
Spaeth, J. D. (1919). Camp Reader for American Soldiers. New York: The
International Committee of Young Men's Christian Association.
Thomas G. Sticht
International Consultant in Adult Education
2062 Valley View Blvd.
El Cajon, CA 92019-2059
Tel/fax: (619) 444-9133
Email: tsticht at aznet.net
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