Student essays honoring veterans due Oct. 13. Here's last year's winning entries

September 20, 2019

     The Virginia War Memorial is seeking entries for its 2019 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest, which is open to all middle and high school students in Virginia, including public, private and home-schooled students.

     One winner will be selected from among all middle school entries and one from high school entries.

        The essay’s topic must be about, “a Virginian who served in the military in the 20th or 21st Centuries, who inspires me.”

   Students can consider a member of their family, of their community or even a famous Virginian who served in the Armed Forces, as their subject.


Students can consider a member of their family, of their community or even a famous Virginian who served in the Armed Forces, as their subject.


   Essays should be 500 to 750 words in length and utilize interviews and primary sources, whenever possible.

   The two students who write the winning essays, and their teachers, will each receive a cash prize.

     The student winners will also be invited to go to Richmond to read aloud their essays during the commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial, located in Richmond, on November 11.

     The deadline for entries is Sunday, October 13, 2019.

    Complete information about the essay theme, rules, guidelines and how to enter is available online at or by calling Virginia War Memorial Assistant Education Director Morgan Guyer at 804-786-2060. The website address is:

     Here are last year's winning essays:



High School Winner


Jolie Smith


Clover Hill High School, Chesterfield County


11th Grade


Teacher: Mr. Nathanial Henry



The impact of World War I on Virginia:

A story of economic and social progress


     Virginia was a key contributor to the United States’ efforts in World War I. About 100,000 Virginians served in the war and 3,700 died during it.

     Those who served directly in the war and those who helped from the homefront included Virginians of all backgrounds, including many women and African Americans.

     World War I catalyzed the progress of Virginia economically and socially. The wartime production of resources in Virginia stimulated the economy and created a shift from agricultural society to industry. Textile mills in the Southside of Virginia sprang up, as did tobacco factories in Petersburg.

     Large corporations, like Dupont Powder Company, opened up many new job opportunities for Virginians. DuPont supplied about 40 percent of the explosives used by the allies over the course of the war and its large film and polyester production plants are still in Richmond and Hopewell today.

     Since new farming methods and technology were introduced during the war, such as the use of fertilizer and new seed types, less agricultural labor was needed and people instead flocked to manufacturing communities.

  Hampton Roads, a center for deployment and supply shipment, and Fort Lee, a military base, were established in Virginia during World War I and are still in use today.

   Virginia’s shipbuilding industry also grew tremendously, as Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock was the largest employer in the state by 1920. Not only did large industries sprout up during World War I, but organizations and families became involved in wartime production, as well. Virginian women’s garden clubs provided much-needed food to those at home and serving abroad by planting vegetables, instead of flowers.

     Richmond churches produced comfort packages of tobacco, bibles, and socks to send to soldiers abroad. Women and African Americans gained new positions in Virginian society. Virginian women were greatly involved in the war effort; their contributions gave support to the women’s suffrage movement and women’s right to vote was granted soon after the war in 1920.

     Women took over vacancies in men’s jobs and served in new factory positions created by the war. Women in Henrico County and Richmond worked for the Women’s Munitions Reserve in a large gunpowder plant at Seven Pines. Women were often paid lower wages than their male counterparts, and thus many protests for pay increases erupted, reinvigorating the women’s suffrage movement. African Americans, though heavily discriminated against in the Jim Crow era Virginia, served in active duty during the war in segregated units, and formed labor unions in the railroad, shipbuilding and tobacco industries.

     For the first time, in 1913, the Virginia Federation of Labor allowed black delegates to join the state convention in Alexandria. In 1918, at the conclusion of the war, black workers walked beside white workers in Richmond’s Labor Day parade. An African American private, from Charlotte County, named James Preston Spencer, wrote in a questionnaire after the war, “I felt that it was my patriotic duty to serve my country at the most critical hour in the Nation’s history . . . though my race had not been given their proper rights."

     Though the Civil Rights movement was more than 30 years away and women’s right to vote was not granted until a couple years after the war, the war provided new opportunities for minority groups to serve in the war and contribute to the economy as workers at home.

     Virginians should continue to observe and honor those that were affected by the war, now 100 years ago, by taking the time to read their stories. One way to do this is through the commonwealth questionnaires, that soldiers and relatives of deceased soldiers filled out after the war; they are all stored at the Library of Virginia. The heroic life and service of a soldier killed in combat, Richard Fuller Woodward, was documented by his wife on his questionnaire

     Many relatives of the deceased became historiographers of Virginians’ role in the war and it is the public’s responsibility to preserve this history. By reading these Virginians’ stories, one can feel connected to the past and gain an understanding of how war has shaped the economic and social character of the Old Dominion




Middle School Winner


Martene Whiting, Jr.


Tabb Middle School, York County


7th Grade


Teacher: Mrs. Courtney Smith-Copeland



The impact of WWI: The passion for equality



     That sound represents the heartbeat of our people. The heartbeat that beats for passion. Passion for our country. Passion for our pride and patriotism. Passion for advancement in equality among minorities.

     If it wasn’t for World War I, the Great War, would we have the passion, the pride, the patriotism and progress in equality that we have today?

    Would we celebrate Armistice Day and have the desire to still continue to honor our Veterans?

     I believe the desire for equality was one of the main reasons African Americans fought in the Great War. World War I was a transformative moment in African-American history. What began as a European conflict soon became an event with revolutionary implications for the social, economic, and political future of African Americans.

     The war directly impacted all African Americans. Migration, military service, racial violence and political protests made that timeframe one of the most ground-breaking periods for African-Americans.

     The Great War also spurred an increase in political activism among African American women. For the growing number of women who worked outside the home, the war created new opportunities to organize collectively and advocate for greater pay and equal working conditions. 

     The impact of the Great War especially impacted soldiers and their families. Some were badly injured and left shell-shocked with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The women within the families had to replace the men in the workforce. That effect led to the oldest siblings to assume the care and responsibility of their siblings.

     James Preston Spencer served in the 370th Infantry. He was an African American born on June 15, 1888, in Charlotte Court House, Virginia. Spencer was a student at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute in Petersburg, at the time of his enlistment. In a questionnaire completed for the Virginia War History Commission, he wrote that, “I felt that it was my patriotic duty to serve my country at the most critical hour in the nation’s history, though my race had not been given their proper rights.”

     Spencer enlisted in October 1917 at Camp Lee, Virginia. He was sent to France in April 1918 to join the 370th Company of the 8th Illinois National Guard. He was full of praise for his first commander in France, Col. Franklin A. Denison, an African-American officer “of rare intelligence and ability," who, “held the cause of American dear to his heart.”

     Spencer noted that Denison was replaced by a white officer in the fall of 1918 “simply on prejudicial grounds.” Now, African Americans have equal rights. Would African Americans have progressed in equal right standing if they never contributed to the Great War?

     I believe the impact of their participation greatly initiated the movement for Civil Rights.

     To this day, war continues to impact families with physical and emotional side effects as well as the obliged sense of duty. Because of the impact of the Great War, I believe the seed of planting the idea for equality among minorities stemmed great fruit from our veterans' labor and sacrifice.

     As a Virginian, I believe the sound of the heartbeat represents the life and passion for my country. The passion to care about the continual advancement in equality for all!

     As long as there is the passion to care, there can be room to learn and share our history.

     Through blogs, like, I believe learning and sharing the knowledge of our history can open doors to appreciate the lives the women and men sacrificed 100 years ago.

     Today, using the internet to announce Armistice Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day, is a great tool to spread the word and help support the memory of our nations story. Together, we can uphold the desire to keep our nations story alive and beating like a heartbeat!


Virginia Governor Ralph Northam congratulates 2018 essay winners, Jolie Smith and Martene Whiting, Jr. (Courtesy photo.)


Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload

Featured Posts

Recently-opened Michigan Left at Indian River Road and Kempsville Road seems to be dangerous and confusing, VB City Council members say

November 20, 2019

Please reload

Recent Posts

December 9, 2019

December 5, 2019

Please reload