CARMEL, Ind.- A Carmel High School history teacher beat out more than 1,200 other high school teachers across the country to win the Veteran of Foreign Wars' Teacher of the Year award.
“They told me he's the best (applicant) they've ever seen," Indiana's VFW State Commander Buzz Weberding said about the national committee that selects the winner.
Members of the Carmel VFW Post 1003 nominated Will Ellery for the award and then he went on to win at the district, state and national level. As part of the award, Ellery and Carmel High School will each get $1,000.
“This is the proudest moment I’ve had in teaching," Ellery said. “I don’t think there is a group I’d rather be recognized by.”
Ellery has more than a 20-year history of honoring veterans. He started a Veteran's Day Convocation at Lawrence North High School in 1996 and later raised funds to build a Veterans Memorial at the school.
At Carmel, he's sponsored students to go on an Honor Flight trip, taken kids to meet the Doolittle Raiders and brings in veterans to class to speak about their experiences in the military, but most notably, for the last 20 years he's organized a trip to Europe for students to experience history.
“That was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had," Carmel High School Senior Kenny Miller said about the trip.
Each trip Ellery chooses a different American cemetery for his students to research and then they place American flags on all the Indiana soldiers' graves. One year he even took along a coworker's grandfather who was a medic in WWII.
“It makes a connection so far beyond anything I can do in the classroom," Ellery said. "I cant replicate it anywhere else."
One of Ellery's US History class assignments is for students to create video documentaries of WWII vets. One year, an inquisitive student asked about interviewing a WWI vet and Ellery says there weren't any left.
However, Ellery was wrong and that following winter break he traveled to West Virginia to interview the last surviving WWI veteran, Frank Buckles.
“He truly does teach history and citizenship by example by what he does," Carmel VFW Post 1003 Commander Richard Leirer said. “Those kind of things make you very proud as a veteran to have this young man working in our schools.”
Ellery views as these extra-curricular activities of his as his job and he doesn't like letting the academics getting in the way of him educating students.
“They are not going to remember necessarily in 20 years how I instructed them, but they are in 20 years gonna tell their kids ‘hey I met this Iwo Jima veteran,'" Ellery said.
Ellery was honored at the Carmel City Council Meeting Monday and the Carmel VFW last week. He'll also be honored at the state VFW convention in June and the national convention in Charlotte this July.
“This really has been more than I ever could anticipate that it was going to be," Ellery said. "These veterans are looking at me like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve done nothing but what my responsibility is and that’s to teach."