At the Basilica School of St. Mary in Fairfax, social studies teacher Melissa Manaker encouraged her students to compete in an upcoming statewide essay contest, and sixth-grader Joseph Moreno thought he had a chance to win.
When it was announced that the essay would solicit thoughts on “a post-911 veteran who inspires you,” he grew even more confident, because he knew two such veterans – his mother and his father.
“Writing about one veteran who served after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is hard because I have two veterans in my life who are very important to me,” Moreno wrote as his essay’s open. “They both have taught me many lessons on service and sacrifice that all of us can learn from.”
Moreno recounts how his father, now Lt. Col. Joseph Moreno, had his first duty assignment with an Army Reserve unit in New York City. He was working just a few miles from lower Manhattan when the terrorist plot brought down the twin towers.
“My dad inspires me with his hard work and service to our country. He is a father of eight, and I am the second oldest; he is a lawyer and also a cancer survivor. In the Army my dad gives advice to soldiers and commanders about things like the use of weapons, the treatment of prisoners and how to be sure the Army is obeying the law,” the younger Moreno wrote of his father.
His mother, Tara Moreno, joined the Army Reserves at age 17 and was a truck driver in upstate New York in Albany. She met his father during an annual drill involving both the upstate and Long Island teams. After Sept. 11, they were both called to overseas tours on active duty, and they served overlapping tours in Iraq. A couple of years after they completed their tours, Tara left the Army and they got married.
“During our professional development, we shared that experience overseas, being in a combat zone together,” Joseph Moreno said, noting that he wants to impress that obligation of service with his children. “And so now we really hope to expose our kids as much as we can to Army life.… I tell them about our experiences and explain why we joined and why it was such an important thing for the two of us.”
His son seems to understand that importance, writing that he was moved that both his parents risked their lives serving overseas.
“Because of them one day I would like to join the military,” he wrote. “I would like to serve and protect America. I think we could all learn a lesson from serving in the military, like learning how to use a firearm, maybe go into combat or being an officer. From their time in the Army my parents have taught me about military values like courage, honesty, integrity and protecting your fellow brothers and sisters.”
For his reflection on service in his family, Joey Moreno and his family were invited to the state’s Veterans Day ceremony in Richmond, where he read his winning essay to veterans and dignitaries gathered at the Virginia War Memorial. Moreno and high schooler Maria Turner of Patrick County each received a $250 gift card from the Virginia War Memorial Foundation, and each of their teachers received a $100 gift card to buy classroom supplies.
The sixth-grader had some help visualizing victory: His sister, Niamh Moreno, who is active with the local Civil Air Patrol, was last year’s middle-school essay winner.