May 26, 2022
A tradition for J.E.J. Moore Middle School and the Prince George community continued as the school held its annual Memorial Day Tribute ceremony to honor fallen United States service members Thursday morning in its memorial gardens.
This year's event carried special significance, marking ten years since Captain Jesse Ozbat, a former Moore Middle School student and member of the U.S. Army's 168th Brigade Support Battalion, died in 2012 while serving in Afghanistan. Ozbat, fellow soldier Tobias Alexander, and the group's interpreter died from their injuries after being targeted by enemy forces in an improvised explosive device attack. Ozbat was 28 years old.
Despite a heavy mist enveloping the campus, dozens of students and staff joined members of the Prince George School Board, Prince George Board of Supervisors, and current and veteran members of America's armed forces for the half-hour ceremony. The service featured musical selections performed by the J.E.J. Moore Royal Band, conducted by music teacher and band director John Redling, the Full Year Choir, led by choir teacher Janey Silas, and student-written poetry pieces aligning with the themes of Memorial Day: honor and remembrance.
The guest speaker for this year's ceremony was Prince George County police officer and J.E.J. Moore Middle/Prince George Education Center school resource officer John Vasquez, who reflected on his friendship with the late Sgt. Lawrence G. Sprader, Jr., a hometown soldier who passed away in June 2007 while attending the Warrior Leadership Course at Fort Hood, TX, as he spoke about America's Gold Star families.
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"Even though every Gold Star family's story is different, every single family I have met shares the same pride and love for their service member," Vasquez said. "I have seen them mourn the loss of their loved one deeply, but I have also seen how proud of their service they were and how much they loved them. They show that our nation's fallen and their legacy does not end with their death. Their family and friends carry it on, so they continue to be an inspiration to the upcoming generations. This is what Memorial Day is all about; it is not a day of sadness but a day where we say we will never forget your sacrifice. It is a time to say thank you and renew our promises to ourselves and others that we will live by the ideals that we hold dear for our country and our service members made the ultimate sacrifice for."
The ceremony also featured a check presentation by Jamie Westbay, retired Prince George School Librarian, to Kevin Foster of the John Randolph Foundation of over $2,000 to help support the Honor Above All Scholarship. The fund was created in Ozbat's memory to support students looking to continue their education after high school. Joanne Moyer of the Prince George Nutritional Services Organization also contributed to the fund on behalf of their group.
As raindrops fell, students Olivia Hahn and Anthony Foster read the names of fallen Prince George service members dating back to World War I. As their voice echoed across the crowd, the Moore Middle School Honor Detachment placed American flags in the gardens, one for each soldier named. Aiding the students in the ceremony was J.E.J. Moore Social Studies Teacher Rodney Leary. The former infantry special forces member-turned-educator of nearly 30 years delivered a poignant salute as "Taps" played over the hushed audience in attendance, flanked by America's colors on each side.
The gardens are a J.E.J. Moore community project, with students and staff working together to prepare the grounds for Thursday's ceremony and maintain them throughout the year. At the heart of the gardens is a tree planted in honor of Ozbat, with a plaque serving as a subtle but constant reminder of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms.
To read poems from J.E.J. Moore Middle School students from the Memorial Day Tribute, click the link below.