Justin Zemser: Navy Midshipmen and Modern-Day American Hero

Eric Purdy takes a look back at the life of Justin Zemser, a Navy Midshipmen whose life, although cut short, was full of service to country and fellow man.

Eric Purdy takes a look back at the life of Justin Zemser, a Navy Midshipmen whose life, although cut short, was full of service to country and fellow man.


(Photo courtesy for ABC News)

The greatest sacrifice one can make for our country and fellow citizens is that of their life.  When a young man or woman swears that they will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic they ensure our freedoms that we hold for granted…yes, for granted.

Justin Zemser took that oath two years ago when he became a student at the United States Naval Academy and a future officer in our the greatest military force on the planet.  Zemser was a 20-year-old sophomore at the Academy.

In one of the worst transit disasters in recent history on Tuesday night, Midshipman Justin Zemser’s life was cut drastically short when he was one of the six people killed in the Amtrak train derailment in Pennsylvania.

Zemser never had a chance to serve on the field of battle but had he had the opportunity to continue with his sworn duty to our country he would have surely done so.  However, Justin Zemser did serve the community in other ways before his untimely death.

(Photo courtesy of the Naval Academy)
(Photo courtesy of the Naval Academy)

Zemser was a member of the Navy sprint football team.  Sprint football is football where players weigh in twice a week and must measure at 172 pounds or lighter.  He was an English major and an academic honor student, a member of the Jewish Midshipman Club, and part of the Semper Fi Society, a  prestigious Marine Corps society group.  Justin was valedictorian from Channel View School in Queens, a two-time captain of the Beach Channel High School football team, and an All-Borough Team selection.  Zemser was a member of his high school’s nature photography club which did research in Jamaica Bay. He volunteered at Promenade nursing home in Rockaway Park and at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. Justin helped plant trees with MillionTrees NYC.

Having the dedication and commitment to attending a service academy is beyond that of any other place of higher learning. Professional courses and training are an essential part of the Naval Academy’s integrated program. Required courses in naval science, engineering, navigation and weapons systems give you a working knowledge of modern naval operations and technology. Courses in leadership, ethics and military law help prepare you for leadership responsibilities as an upper-class midshipman and a commissioned officer. Physical education teaches you the value of physical fitness and staying fit for life.

The Academy has a deep and abiding commitment to the moral development of its midshipmen and to instilling the Naval service core values of honor, courage, and commitment. The goal of the character development division is to integrate the moral, ethical, and character development of midshipmen across every aspect of the Naval Academy experience. The integrated character development program is the single most important feature that distinguishes the Naval Academy from other educational institutions and officer commissioning sources.

It is always a hardship for the families of military members when that service member is killed in the line of duty on foreign soil.  It is difficult for everyone who know that soldier from friends and family to battle buddies.  When a soldier is killed on home soil for any reason, it is the same feeling because regardless, that young person would have given their life in any way for any reason in service.  They died in uniform service to our country.

Justin Zemser was a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew—a United States Naval officer.  He was too young to be taken from this earth, this country,  but they all are too young; yet, like all service members, Justin served his country in all categories.

Last Tuesday night, the United States did not just lose a military officer, they lost a son.

It does not matter how a service member gives their life, what matters is that they were willing to give their life for any cause when they took the Oath.

Justin Zemser was buried on Friday night and may he always be remembered for what he was, and that was everything.  Something most of us will never be and some of us have already been.

Semper Fi, Justin Zemser!  Your service to this country will always be remembered. It is the threat of death, the fact of death, that gives abstractions weight.  A good officer…a Marine…volunteers for everything whether on the streets of Long Island or Afghanistan.   Becoming a Marine is a transformation that cannot be undone.  Though Justin never completed his schooling at the Naval Academy and became a Marine and lost his life in a tragic train accident, he is still one of the few and the proud.



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