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Virginia War Memorial Announces Winners of 2021 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest  

A middle schooler from Fairfax and a high school sophomore from Patrick County were the first place winners in the Virginia War Memorial’s 2021 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest. The winners were announced at the 65th Annual Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony held Thursday, November 11 at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond and livestreamed on social media.

The winner in the middle school category was Joseph Moreno, a 6th grader at The Basilica School of St. Mary in Fairfax. His teacher is Melissa Manaker.

The winner in the high school category was Maria Turner, a 10th grader at Patrick County High School in Stuart. Michele Ardner is her teacher.

The annual contest was open to middle and high school age students throughout Virginia enrolled in public or private schools or homeschooled. The essay topic for the 2021 competition was “An American Who Served in the Military following the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 Who Inspires Me.”

The contest winners, Joseph Moreno and Maria Turner, traveled to Richmond to read aloud their essays on stage as part of the Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony.  Each winner received a $250 gift card and each of their teachers received a $100 gift card to purchase classroom supplies. The gift cards were funded by donations to the nonprofit Virginia War Memorial Foundation.

Joseph and Maria were personally congratulated by Virginia’s U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Virginia’s First Lady Pamela Northam, and Virginia Acting Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Kathleen Jabs who attended the ceremony.

“We are very proud of Joseph and Maria, our 2021 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest essay winners and all of the students from throughout the Commonwealth that participated this year,” said Dr. Clay Mountcastle, Virginia War Memorial Director. “Education and preserving history for future generations are tenets of our important mission here at the Virginia War Memorial.  These students demonstrate with their inspiring words, just how important that mission can be.”

More than 80 Virginia students submitted entries to the contest. The winning essays are posted online on the Virginia War Memorial Foundation website:

About the Virginia War Memorial

The mission of the Virginia War Memorial is to Honor Veterans, Preserve History, Educate Youth and Inspire Patriotism in All.  Dedicated in 1956, the Memorial includes the names of the nearly 12,000 Virginia heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars, and the Global War on Terrorism. The Virginia War Memorial is and will always be the Commonwealth’s tribute to those who served and most especially, to those who died defending our freedoms.  The Virginia War Memorial is a division of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and serves as an integral part of its mission in support of all Virginians who have served in our military. It is located at 621 South Belvidere Street, Richmond, Virginia 23220. For more information, please visit

About the Virginia Department of Veterans Services

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services (VDVS) is a state government agency with more than 40 locations across the Commonwealth of Virginia. VDVS traces its history to 1928 and the establishment of the Virginia War Service Bureau to assist Virginia’s World War I veterans. Today, VDVS assists veterans and their families in filing claims for federal veterans benefits; provides veterans and family members with linkages to services including behavioral healthcare, housing, employment, education and other programs. The agency operates two long-term care facilities offering in-patient skilled nursing care, Alzheimer’s/memory care, and short-term rehabilitation for veterans; and provides an honored final resting place for veterans and their families at three state veterans cemeteries. It operates the Virginia War Memorial, the Commonwealth’s tribute to Virginia’s men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice from World War II to the present. For more information, please visit