Virginia Governor Ralph Northam poses with Essay Contest winners

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam poses with the Virginia War Memorial 2020 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest winners, Matthew Miscikowski and Niamh Moreno, on Nov. 11 in Richmond.

RICHMOND – A middle-schooler from Alexandria and a junior high student from Henrico County are the first place winners of the Virginia War Memorial’s 2020 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest.

Their achievement was announced at the 64th Annual Commonwealth Veterans Day Ceremony held Nov. 11 at the VWM.

Niamh Moreno, a 7th-grader at The Basilica School of St. Mary, wrote about Luta May McGrath, who was dubbed “The First Lady of Ordnance.” She joined the Army in 1943 to fight in World War II and served in the Ordnance Corps for 17 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. When she died in 2016, she was 108 years old.

“I cannot imagine how frightening it must have been for Lt. Col. McGrath to join the Army at a time when the entire world was at war and very few women were able to (serve),” a portion of Moreno’s essay read. “Her service in Texas (involved the development of) tanks and missiles that helped the United States win the war. Her service in Germany helped to fight the Soviet Union and prevent another war. She stayed in the Army for many years and proved her commitment to this country and fellow Americans.

“Both my parents served … in Iraq, and my mother together with veterans like Lt. Col.  McGrath helped make it possible for women today to serve,” Moreno also wrote. “Lt. Col.  McGrath showed leadership and bravery, and her long life is one to be very proud of. I wish I could have interviewed Lt. Col. McGrath for this essay to learn more about her experience in the Army, but I visited Arlington National Cemetery and left a flag at her grave to show my great respect for her life.”

Matthew Miscikowski, an 11th-grader at Deep Run High School, profiled his grandfather, Michael Troyanoski, who enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

“He was a navigator, engineer, radio operator and gunner on B-17s and B-24s that flew 37 bombing raids over Europe, destroying targets that were critical to the Nazi war machine.” Miscikowski’s essay revealed. “After the war, he was stationed in South America as part of search and rescue operations in the Pacific.”

“To this day, the image of my grandfather still shines as a bright beacon, which inspires me to be the best person I can be,” his essay concluded. “One day, I hope to be half the man my grandfather was. We call them the greatest generation because of their humility, commitment, bravery and love of their country, and there will never be another group like them. I close by saying that from their stories and pictures, they will continue to inspire future generations to unite, to commit and defend the honor of this country.”

Full versions of the winning essays are posted online on the Virginia War Memorial Foundation website, www.vawarmemorial.org/learn/contests-scholarships.

The annual contest is open to middle- and high-school-age students throughout Virginia in public and private schools or homeschooled. Niamh and Matthew each received a $200 gift card and their teachers were presented with $100 gift cards to purchase classroom and educational supplies.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who served as the keynote speaker at the Commonwealth Veterans Day Ceremony, personally congratulated the winners.

 "We are so proud of our essay contest winners and all of the students who participated this year,” said Dr. Clay Mountcastle, VWM director. “Education and preserving history for future generations are tenets of our mission.  These students show us, with their inspiring words, just how important that mission can be.  We look forward to always incorporating students into the Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony.”