May 25, 2023
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 on Thursday, May 25, 2023, to honor fallen local service members, including one of their own, Captain Jesse Ozbat, in the school's memorial gardens.
Held just before Memorial Day, the school's annual event, entering its 11th year, draws dozens of local representatives, soldiers from neighboring Fort Gregg-Adams, and retired service members to the campus for a morning of student-led musical performances, poetry, and stirring messages of remembrance and honor from chosen guest speakers. The ceremony is also a year-long community service project for the J.E.J. Moore Middle School community, with students and staff tending to the memorial grounds, performing regular maintenance throughout the year, and leading up to the yearly ceremony. Their work is carried out as a plaque adorning the center of the gardens keeps Capt. Ozbat's legacy is at the forefront of the school's consciousness.
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In 2012, Capt. Ozbat, a member of the U.S. Army's 168th Brigade Support Battalion, died in 2012 while serving in Afghanistan. The former Moore Middle School student and Prince George High School graduate was killed in action alongside fellow soldier Tobias Alexander and the group's interpreter after being targeted by enemy forces in an improvised explosive device attack. Ozbat was 28 years old.
Since Ozbat's death, the Moore Middle School community has carried forth his memory through their actions, culminating in the school's annual ceremony, with the school's band delivering the national anthem on a backdrop featuring the waving American Flag at the front of the campus and choir students performing "In Flanders Fields" over the hushed audience.
During Thursday's ceremony, Moore students also offered literary pieces that homed in on the themes of Memorial Day, remembrance, and sacrifices. Their words served as a poetic transition into the event's guest speaker Angela Bellamy, Survivor Outreach Services Support Coordinator for Fort Gregg-Adams, who shared that the Ozbat family was the first family she would serve in her capacity with the base following the captain's death in Afghanistan.
"While the circumstances of how we met might not have been the ideal way to meet such a wonderful family, it has been wonderful caring for this Gold Star family, and it's been an honor and a privilege to do so," she said. "They truly raised a hero."
Bellamy's remarks touched on the importance of sharing the stories of fallen service members as she discussed her preparation for Moore Middle School's Memorial Day ceremony. For her, while she did not know Capt. Jesse Ozbat personally, the shared stories from his family left a lasting impression.
"I realized I knew Jesse through the stories and quality time I spent with the entire Ozbat family," she shared. "I know stories of Jesse as a loving husband and encourager to his wife, Danielle, and their time together on adventures in Hawaii, stories of a precious son who cared for others and asked his parents to send school supplies to share with a young Iraqi child, and stories of a loving, supportive brother who stated, 'I'm serving, so my brother doesn't have to wear the uniform,' and stories of an enduring love for his sister and their time growing up together. I also heard wonderful stories from his fellow soldiers at Fort Gregg-Adams."
"Over the last 11 years, I have come to know who Jesse was, and because of the stories and memories that have been shared with me, I feel as if I know Jesse personally," Bellamy continued.
She would use her time to encourage the community to take a few minutes from enjoying a day off from work or school to research the soldier's names they might see adorning a memorial site or a dedicated bridge, road, or building to learn who they were and discover the person behind the tribute.
"It is very important never to forget those who gave their last measure in defense of our country. Our community and country need to remember them, and we owe it to them to honor their memory and sacrifice," Bellamy said. "Our community and country need to say their name, and we owe it to them so they will never be forgotten."
"I am reminded of a quote shared by Wreaths Across America that resonates with me," she continued. "'A person dies twice, once when they take their last breath, and again when their name is no longer spoken.' I ask and challenge our community to say their names and not be the cause of their second death. The names of heroes are all around us; say their names, research them, and take the time to learn about them so that we remember these heroes."
"The reason events like this tribute ceremony and other events across the country are needed is because it allows us to say their name," she closed.
The Memorial Day Tribute culminated as students placed American flags in the gardens as their classmates read the names of the nearly 50 service members who died in service to their nation since World War I. Aiding students in the ceremony was J.E.J. Moore Social Studies Teacher, Rodney Leary. The former infantry special forces member-turned-educator delivered a poignant salute as "Taps" played over the audience in attendance, performed by Moore student Kennedy Moses.
The ceremony also featured a check presentation by retired Prince George School librarian Jamie Westbay to the John Randolph Foundation to help support the Honor Above All Scholarship. Prince George Schools Food Service Organization also contributed to the memorial scholarship fund during the ceremony. The fund was created in Ozbat's memory to support students looking to continue their education after high school.
To read select poems from J.E.J. Moore Middle School students for the Memorial Day Tribute, click the link below.