In Memory of Justin Zemser

Remembering "Z"

This memorial website was created in the memory of our son Justin Brandon Zemser who was born on March 25, 1995 and passed away on May 12, 2015 in Philadelphia, PA at the age of 20. Justin died in the Amtrak train derailment on his way back home to Rockaway Beach, NY. Justin was a sweet, funny, kind, caring, loving, bright, talented, wonderful and amazing young man. These few words will never be able to express all that he was and all that he meant to his family and friends. Justin was our only son, our bright shining star, and the love of our lives.

He entered and left this world with such a beautiful meaningful spirit. He lived his life with fun, joy, laughter, silliness, smiles and with a heart full of love for his family, his friends, his teachers, his Hebrew study partner, his snake, bearded dragon and turtles, and his home. He lit up every room he entered. Justin was full of life and kept a positive outlook wherever he went.  He was a born leader, and was his own person who respected everyone's opinion and expected the same in return. He touched our lives everyday with sunshine and love. He made us burst with pride every single day of his life, and Heaven must be an even more beautiful place now with our "Midshipman" there.


We will love, miss and remember him forever in our hearts.


Susan and Howard Zemser

A video tribute to Justin

Justin's Ethics Term Paper

Ethics Term Paper #1: Pass the Inspection 

MIDN 3/C J. B. Zemser


NE203, Section 4003

LCDR Mike Good

6 March 2015


 “You cannot take back your integrity once you give it away,” Capt. Callanan, USMC, officer representative of the Jewish Midshipman Club, said passionately to me on a Thursday afternoon in her office several weeks ago. As a logistics officer with forward deployments to Iraq, she recalled several occasions early in her career similar to the “Pass the Inspection” case study that required difficult, controversial decisions on her part. She also acknowledged the importance of the Planned Maintenance System and the sturdy foundation it establishes for effective planning and logistical efforts. Every single check acknowledges a specific job potentially vital to both mission readiness and personnel safety. Without question, all checks must be accounted for. In the fleet, Capt. Callanan repeatedly faced competing tensions and conflicting loyalties between the mission at hand, her marines, and her personal integrity, analogous to those highlighted in the prompt.  

Building on these experiences, she emphasized three main points when facing tough moral decisions: 1) Mission readiness and success is paramount, but does not override personal accountability and integrity. 2) Trustworthy relationships with your sailors/marines, especially with your senior enlisted, are vital for unit productivity and effectiveness; however, fair, honorable standards must nevertheless ground the unit. 3) Integrity, the backbone of our duty as servicemen and women, is the delicate thread that binds a unit together; it cannot be compromised.

Ultimately, the officers in charge dictate these principles.  Regardless of a particular situation’s impending circumstances, officers make the difficult decisions, and likewise, as said by Capt. Callanan, “must take the consequences on the chin.”

Fresh out of the Naval Academy, only three months into my first surface tour, I would still be finding my bearing on the ship, let alone establishing my reputation as a reliable division officer when the Squadron Commodore’s Maintenance and Administration Programs inspection grabs my full attention. The first real test for my division and me, this inspection will set the tone for the rest of my tour, including my relationship with my sailors and commanding officer. If my Chief, a senior enlisted with nearly two decades on the job, tells me the Friday before the inspection that he/she marked off incomplete checks, disguising unfinished maintenance jobs, several questions would immediately come to my mind: I know my Chief is experienced, but can I trust him/her on this one? Should I allow this sort of behavior? If I cut corners, what precedent am I setting for the rest of the division?

Signing off for incomplete maintenance jobs, whether or not the jobs will get done in the future, is an act of deception, the easy way out. Even though a false check does not constitute a direct lie, knowingly deceiving both my commanding officer and his boss promotes dishonesty.  Looking through the scope of Kantian ethics, lying in any form is under no circumstances tolerated. Regarding Kant’s Categorical Imperative, a universally mandatory way for assessing actions, I must never “act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.”[1] In other words, I cannot act on a maxim, or personal rule, unless I honestly believe the world’s majority would accept it as justifiable law. When applying the categorical imperative to this situation I must ask myself: would most people accept deceptive actions as universally permissible behaviors? The reasonable answer is no. Therefore, falsifying the maintenance checks is immoral and unjustifiable.

Building on Kantian ethics, military members, especially officers, must hold themselves to high mental, physical, and moral standards. As Martin Cook says in “The Moral Foundations of Military Service,” these principles, founded on the military’s relationship with the American people, embody “some of the deepest values of human life and our society.”[2] Naturally, people see the military service as an “ideal human community,” one that respects, protects, and inspires.[3] Military leaders must validate these beliefs through honorable actions, maintaining this trust with the American public while asserting the military’s might worldwide. Actions such as deceiving my commanding officer and his boss would bring only shame and discredit to the armed forces. While the American people would never realistically know about my specific transgression, the moral violation in itself would betray their trust, slandering the American values military members swear to defend. This one lie sets an unworthy, dishonorable precedent.

            Despite convincing moral theories by Kant and Cook, one could also make the case for allowing the faulty maintenance checks and cheating the Commodore’s inspection. Utilitarianism, for instance, an ethical philosophy headed by John Stuart Mill that deems “actions right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness,” disregards intent and personal integrity.[4] This method takes into account only the net pleasure derived from particular situations. In this case, the greatest overall happiness would occur if the Commodore, the CO, and I got exactly what they wanted: a successful inspection with minor discrepancies. Clearly, the utilitarian decision requires that I allow the fraudulent checks in the name of a clean inspection. Only then could all parties achieve maximum happiness. The ends would justify the means.

As a young ensign aboard my first ship, I must also take into account the important relationship between my Chief and me. The division’s proficiency, as well as, my connection with the junior sailors relies primarily on how well I work with my senior enlisted. This relationship consists large in part of how I respond to my Chief and his advice, especially in high-stress situations such as an important inspection. Disregarding his insistence to mark off the maintenance jobs may come across as a sign of disrespect, curtailing the stable rapport I have worked towards with him/her. Applying utilitarian ethics here again by trusting my Chief’s decision making would also go long way in establishing unit integrity among the division, an element that further promotes happiness within the command .

Unlike utilitarianism, virtue ethics takes into account personal moral character. Aristotle, the famed Greek virtue philosopher, believed humans achieved eudemonia, the epitome of human happiness and well-being, by leading virtuous lives. This quest for happiness, he asserts, incites ambition and structure within the individual, providing lives with quantifiable worth through the attainment of excellence in particular niches. Performing his/her function with excellence is “in accordance with the best and most complete form of goodness,” claims Aristotle.[5] When applying this method to the case study, one must first define the role/function of an officer. John Paul Jones writes in his Qualifications of a Naval Officer:

[An officer] should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor. He should be the soul of tact, justice, firmness, kindness, and charity… In one word, every commander should keep constantly before him the great truth, that to be well obeyed, he must be perfectly esteemed.

Following this path set out by John Paul Jones requires personal integrity and good judgment, characteristics that I would sacrifice if I permitted such deceptive actions by my Chief. These actions, contrary to honor, justice, and charity, inhibit any excellence within my function/role as an officer, thus forfeiting my virtue and ultimately eudaimonia. Virtue ethics requires that I do not allow my Chief to mark off the maintenance jobs.  

            In addition to virtue ethics, a reasonable person may also disagree with my utilitarian decision to allow my Chief’s misleading actions. Within the ethical philosophy, one could question the greatest mode of net happiness. Even though I claimed the most happiness would result from a passed inspection, particularly by the Commodore, CO, and me, a reasonable person could argue that the most happiness would result not from me allowing the checks, but rather from me owning up to the CO for my shortcomings as a division officer, and receiving whatever repercussions set forth. In this instance, my CO may value my honesty and moral courage over the results of the inspection itself, leading to a greater trust between him and me, as well as, an untarnished relationship between him and the Commodore.

            Likewise, while the relationship with my Chief is vital, the situation may not be as straightforward as utilitarianism frames it. Disagreeing with my Chief on a particular occasion does not instantly condemn our rapport. My tone, and the way I phrase my words, will go a long way in how my Chief receives my disapproval. Something along the lines of, “Chief, while I value your advice and the way you have looked out for the division and me, I do not feel comfortable with signing off the checks,” would hopefully solicit a reasonable response. By taking full responsibility for the training mishap that led to our undermanned division and maintaining open communication with my enlisted, I will develop a relationship with my Chief that proves sturdier in the long run, one founded upon integrity rather than deceit.     

            Based on the previous analysis, I have come to three main conclusions: 1) Officers must own their mistakes. 2) Completing the mission, or in this case passing the inspection is essential, but should not undermine my personal integrity. 3) While the relationship with my senior enlisted is extremely important, I must expect them not to put me in compromising positions.

            In a case like this, I would first take full responsibility over the situation. I should have known the personnel discrepancy for the week and adjusted accordingly, particularly with an inspection coming up. After respectfully declining my Chief’s request, I would sit the division down, explain where I went wrong, and tell them that we must work over the weekend and get the jobs done the right way. I would also clear things up with my Chief, explaining to him that we cannot put each other in precarious situations, especially when honor is at stake. Even though I might have a grumpy division for the next few days, it is essential that I set the right precedent for the rest of my tour. We will work hard. We will work for one another. We will never take the easy way out.

[1] Immanuel Kant, "Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals," in Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership, ed. Dr. George Lucas, Jr., Captain Rick Rubel (Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014), 164.

[2] Martin Cook, "The Moral Foundations of Military Service," in Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership, ed. Dr. George Lucas, Jr., Captain Rick Rubel (Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014), 47.

[3] Ibid., 54.

[4] John Stuart Mill, "Utilitarianism," in Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership, ed. Dr.   George Lucas, Jr., Captain Rick Rubel (Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014), 123.

[5] Aristotle, "The Moral Virtues," in Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership, ed. Dr. George Lucas, Jr., Captain Rick Rubel (Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014), 186.


Works Cited

Aristotle. "The Moral Virtues." In Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral

Foundations of Leadership, edited by Dr. George Lucas, Jr., Captain Rick Rubel, 185-190. Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014.

Cook, Martin. "The Moral Foundations of Military Service." In Ethics and the Military

Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership, edited by Dr. George Lucas, Jr., Captain Rick Rubel, 47-55. Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014.

Kant, Immanuel. "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals." In Ethics and the Military

Profession: The Moral Foundations of Leadership, edited by Dr. George Lucas, Jr., Captain Rick Rubel, 161-171. Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014.

Mill, John Stuart. "Utilitarianism." In Ethics and the Military Profession: The Moral

Foundations of Leadership, edited by Dr. George Lucas, Jr., Captain Rick Rubel, 123-132. Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014.

 A letter from Tyler Zimmerman: 

Mr. and Mrs. Zemser,


I wanted to respond to your request as soon as possible.  If I had to describe Justin using a few words the ones that come to mind are hard-working, personable and passionate.  I'm also including a story of mine involving Justin.  

It was the beginning of first semester plebe year and, as is tradition, the rest of my classmates and I were tasked with getting the signatures of our upperclassmen.  When I approached Justin asking about how I could get his signature he quickly noticed that my last name begins with Z like his.  He told me that he originally planned to give all the plebes the same task but quickly came up with another task for me after bonding over the common struggle of having a last name that starts with Z(last in alphabet order etc.).  I had never talked to Justin before and the first thing he did was he established a bond between me and him.  Even though it was as simple as recognizing the letter that begins our last name that gesture stood out in my head as a show of the kind of character Justin possessed.  That he values the friendship of those around him, seeks out connections and works to establish them.  

Very Respectfully,

T.J. Zimmerman



Stories from Christine and Bill Frey: 

 #1: So, when I first met Justin, I thought he was Italian. Call it being a naive Irish gal from Maryland, but he said he was from NY, he had dark hair/tan skin, so in my mind, he was Italian. One weekend, he came over with Brandon. They spent the two days playing video games, watching football and eating Bill's homemade chili. Sunday (late) afternoon arrived and I made the announcement that we were heading to church (catholic mass). I knew Brandon was catholic, and assumed Justin was as well.  I mean in my mind, he was still our Italian boy from NY. Brandon and Justin got up, put on their uniforms, busted Connor and Jack's chops about getting ready on time and we all headed out the door. We arrived to church and Justin walked right into the service with the rest of us. We sat down and mass began. Not fully paying attention, I noticed Justin and Brandon a few seats over chitchatting throughout the mass, but thought nothing of it. I passed money down the row to them for the offering plate and they all took part. Then it was time for communion. Everyone stood up and we all proceeded toward the priest. Again, I saw Brandon and Justin behind me going through hand gestures/motions, but thought nothing of it. We made our way through communion, mass ended and we headed toward the church foyer. Before we left, Brandon, Justin and the boys stopped by to say hello to Father and we then made our way back to the car. 
Finally back at the house, we began talking about NY and such. Based on the conversation, it finally dawned on me that Justin might not be my surprise, Zemser was Jewish, not Italian - who knew :-)? For a moment I was mortified. Justin never said a word.  Come to find out, when he and Brandon were chatting during the service, Brandon was describing parts of the mass to him. And when they were chatting in line for communion, that was Brandon explaining to Justin what to do so the priest knew not to give him anything. Justin never brought it up. Instead, he was gracious about it, yet intrigued and asked Brandon questions while still taking in the service. I felt horrible and apologized many times.  Justin didn't mind, he actually thought it was funny and it soon became a running joke within our (sponsor) family that anyone new needed to watch out because I was a 'converter' and would try and convert them on many fronts -- from any religion to Catholicism, any sports team to my favorite team, etc. --Christine Frey
#2: I remember Justin coming over one weekend with Brandon and a few other guys from their company. Bill and I stocked the fridge, but you would have thought a swarm of locust came through the house - within 24 hours, a once fully stocked pantry and fridge were empty. I actually think we hit Sam's Club twice that weekend (and loved every minute of it).  I remember we bought the bulk size package of the Special K cereal with Berries, which meant there were two over-sized Special K cereal boxes in the house. I recall placing the boxes in the pantry and heading out to watch some college football with the gang. Now the boys know our rules: "Our House is Your House" so anything in the pantry, fridge, cabinets and/or anywhere in the house is fair game. About a half hour passed and I went out to the kitchen where Justin was. I saw he had an open box of the Special K cereal with Berries on the island in front of him. I picked up the box to grab a handful of cereal and noticed the box was just about empty. I said, "Justin, did you just eat that entire box of cereal?" I guess not knowing where this was going , he stood up straight and said, "Yes ma'am, it is one of my favorites."  I said, "OK, did you want me to get you the other box?" He finally relaxed his shoulders and said (with a smirk), "You mean there's another box?" - Loved that kid!  He always made me laugh. Such a dry sense of humor and always perfectly on queue. We always had a fun time when he was around.--Christine Frey
#3: Every time I would get stuck on a homework question and Justin was over, he would help me figure it out.  He would not just give me the answer, but he would walk me through it so I understood it. He was my secret homework weapon! --Jack Frey
#4: I remember picking up Justin from the train station with my dad and brother. On the ride back, we were talking about football and how I was going to try out for the high school football team next season, but I needed to get stronger and faster to make the team. Justin said he was going to work out with me and help me get ready for the next season. He said he was going to work out with me every day over the summer (when he wasn't on vacation or training the plebes). I thought it was a fantastic plan and I was looking forward to working out with him and talking about football, the Giants and general sports stuff. He was someone I looked up to because I knew he would (and will) always guide me to where I want to go. --Connor Frey
#5: One of our warmest stories about Justin happened after he passed. My 12-year-old son, Jack was testing for his black belt in Taekwondo. He had been training for this day for nearly 6 years and finally, on May 30, 2015, he was ready to test. One thing to keep in mind is my son's black belt test is the exact same test an adult male 25, 30 or 50+ would take. Crazy as it may seem, there is no less of a test for younger kids--they are expected to meet the same requirements as any black belt. The morning started out with a mile run (had to be under 8 minutes) and then quickly moved into a 6 year cumulative test/review of his Poomsae (forms) techniques/motions. He then moved into sparring. He had to spar kid after kid, and even adults - he then moved onto team sparring and 3 on 1 fighting. Once he was done, he began the process of breaking....breaking a brick with his hand, 4 boards on 2 cinder blocks with his hand, many boards with his fist and then about 25 boards with his feet/legs. The poor kid was exhausted. He was not given a break, anything to eat and barely any water. His test lasted 8 grueling hours. He experienced pain, frustration, fatigue and many other emotions. There were a few points throughout the day that we questioned whether we were doing the right thing as parents and nearly took him out. At the end of the test, we were able to talk to him. He was exhausted! We were so proud he made it through the entire day of testing as others (kids and adults) did not. When we asked him how he did it and what got him through the day, he looked at us and said, "I just kept asking myself, what would Justin do? and I knew he would keep going, so that's what I did." Justin touched our family on so many levels. We were so blessed to have him in our lives. --Christine and Bill Frey

Memories from Sarita Jo Condie: 

Justin truly was one of the neatest, most genuine people I have ever met.  I remember him distinctly from plebe summer, but I really grew close to him within his last year on Earth.  He sat next to me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for our Ethics and Moral Reasoning class.  Justin loved that class, and he enjoyed picking the brains of others in conversation.  After those classes, he would walk me to my room.  On the way back, we would share our own personal thoughts on what we had discussed in class that day, what our plans were for the upcoming weekend, or how we were planning on changing the world.  Those walks to my room on 4-2 in Bancroft Hall were what I looked forward to every week.

After his trip to Israel, Justin brought me back a purple scarf.  I was both excited and surprised that he thought of bringing me back a gift during his trip.  It really meant a lot to me.  Less than a week after Justin had passed, my parents insisted on getting me a car for my upcoming 2/C year.  I wore Justin’s purple scarf that day.  Sure enough, the car I drove away in that afternoon was purple.  I cherished that moment because I knew right then that Justin truly would want all of his classmates to continue to grow and improve.  I will never forget Justin and the influence he has had on our entire 17th Company family.


Mr. and Mrs. Zemser,

My name is Kyle Condry and I am a classmate of Justin's in 17th company.  I don't really have a particular story but I just wanted to send you a note to let you know that we are all thinking of you and none of us will ever forget the lasting impression Justin made on each and every one of us. 


I was never one of Justin's best friends and I didn't really spend a lot of time getting to know him until our Youngster year.  Throughout that year, I had more of an inclination to want to talk to him because every time I did I began to realize how special of a guy he was.  I'm sure you have heard it from plenty of people but it cannot be said enough that Justin had a way about him that just lit up the room wherever he was.  I'm a pretty quiet guy especially if I don't feel comfortable around people but Justin was so easy to talk to and no matter how busy he was he always stopped to have a conversation.  He did all the little things right and is someone I will strive to live like for the rest of my life.  


I specifically remember being in the library studying for exams towards the end of youngster year and running into Justin a couple times.  Anyways, we talked for a little one time and he went to study at another corner of the library on some couches.  At the end of the night I was leaving the library and walked by where I knew he was studying to see if he wanted to walk back and he was sleeping hard on that couch! Haha.  I'll remember him for the hard worker he was and for the guy who managed to put a smile on everyone's face no matter the circumstance.  I can only think to credit you two for being fantastic parents and the impact you've had on us through Justin is tremendous.  I hope y'all are doing as well as possible and I will keep you in my prayers!  


-Kyle Condry


Memories from Khalil Cardwell: 

I remember when I first found out my younger sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and called my friends in need for support. Justin was one of the first I spoke to and he assured me that he was here no matter how far(I was in South Carolina at the time) I was we would always be family and if I just said the word he would help me with anything. It meant the world to me that at one of the hardest times in my life I had that support.

A Memory from Alex Williams: 


A couple weeks before the end of the semester it was just an average day. Nothing really special was going on, but I noticed something wrong with my desk. I couldn't really tell what had changed, only that something seemed to be moved from my printer area. I shrugged it off without hesitation and went on my way not thinking about it to much. Fast forward about a week later when I'm going to print off my final paper for my Macroeconomics class and the printer goes "Missing Ink Cartridge: Black." I had literally just bought ink 2 weeks before. I was incredibly confused until I remembered that day about a week ago that the box on top of my printer was moved: Someone must have stolen my ink cartridge. I was convinced and livid the entire day. Later that night I was venting to the big room: Joel, Trent, Ashim, Trevor, and Justin were all in the room listening to my perilous story about how my ink cartridge was stolen by an unnamed assailant. I also added parts about how I would find the person who so awfully wronged me and beat them up and how I was oh so "pissed off." Z was in the corner by Ashim's desk just looking down a little awkwardly, but I didn't think much of it. A few minutes later after calming down, Z walked up to me putting his hands on my sides and looked me in the eyes and said " Alex, I'm so sorry. Please don't be mad at me. I took your ink cartridge because I needed to print something out before English in first period and I was rushed." I just looked at him for a moment not believing what I heard. Z looked at me with those pleading eyes to forgive him thinking I would get mad at him. After a few seconds of we both just looked at each other and started to laugh hysterically. After listening to me rant for 10 minutes about how angry I was and Z was there the entire thing, it was so ironically hilarious that the culprit was right in front of me it got the whole room was laughing. Turns out, Z threw away the cartridge after it didn't work (his printer was actually messed up) but we were able to scavenge for it and save the precious ink that goes for $30 a pop at the Mid Store. 


The day after Z passed I found a note from Z. It was simple "I took some printer paper. -Z," written on the back of a tag from a pair of shorts I had just bought (so I didn't see it until I turned it over the next day wondering what this tag was doing on my desk). I bawled for another hour after seeing the note but the note itself said so much about the kind of friend he was. Genuinely caring, smart, talented, thoughtful, athletic, funny, accountable, honest, encouraging; he was everything of a great friend that I could ask for. Everyday while trying out for Sprint last winter through the spring, he would always walk back on deck with me just the two of us. He would turn to me and always tell me "If anyone can make it, I think you have the best shot." I doubted the feasibility about making Sprint as a rising 2/C, but Z was always there to reassure me when I doubted myself. I made the team for him, struggling through fourth quarters and making the final cuts just through effort alone. Whenever I felt bad, I remembered what Z would tell me after spring practices and it would always push me: it still does. Not a day has gone by where I haven't thought about Z and how much better the season would have been at his side or how we would have celebrated when I finally found out I made the team just a week or so before the season started or how we would've had a blast on opposite sides of the ball from each other in practice (I always told him I was gonna come from the D-Line and just hit him randomly during a few plays just for fun). In my few years of life I've found that when people pass many times they tend to exaggerate how great of people they were. I haven't had this problem: Z was truly the most amazing person I've had the pleasure of knowing. He was just an all around amazing friend and brother and good at anything he did. I missed him a lot these past 9+ months and I know with spring practices starting up next week I'll only keep missing him.


A LETTER from Anthony Goliver: 

Mr. and Mrs. Zemser,

My name is Anthony Goliver. I was one of Justin's teammates on the Navy Sprint football team. I graduated in 2015 shortly after we lost Justin. Justin and I never really hung out outside of football, but he was one of the best teammates I have ever had the pleasure of playing with and a brother. I will always remember his smile, his work ethic, and his ability to brighten anyone's day.

By coincidence, I saw Justin leave Bancroft Hall for the last time on that terrible day. I happened to run into him in the hallway on his way out and, in typical Justin fashion, he greeted me with a smile. We talked for a bit as we walked the same way down the hallway until we reached the door. He apologized for not being able to talk longer since he had to rush to make the train and we hugged goodbye. I thought to myself about how great of a kid he was, not realizing that would be the last time I'd see him. To this day, I wish I could go back and keep him from making the that train. He was an incredible man who made everyone around him better.

The first picture is of me (3rd from the left) and the guys from my TBS Platoon on our last day of The Infantry Officer Course. We finished our last field exercise yesterday, fittingly on Justin's birthday. I wanted to share this with you because I have felt Justin with me through every step of TBS and IOC and he is also in the picture. I started carrying the picture of Justin (that I also attached) in my left breast pocket as a constant reminder to better myself and bring that same positive energy that Justin always had. I know Justin was training to be a SEAL, but I feel obligated to carry on his spirit in my career as a Marine.

I want to thank you for raising such a great man. I am truly honored to have been his teammate. I hope this message finds you doing well. I can only imagine what yesterday was like for your family, but I wanted you to know that his spirit lives on in all of the lives he touched.

Anthony Goliver


March 25,2016

My dear boy Justin,

Today is the day that you would have turned 21…

I would have gone to your Facebook page and write a post to you. You would like it and reply “thanks mom”. And that would make my day.

I often think that I never told you so many things, because it was not the time, but mostly because you would be back again another day. So maybe the next time, we would sit longer and catch up about school, girls, or anything else… There was never a goodbye, it was always “until next break and keep me posted it”.

We became Facebook friends years after you graduated. And I loved to see all the good things you were doing, the places you were going. So after you passed, I have to tell you that I read each and every post you wrote on your Facebook page. And as I was reading, I wanted so much to have some magical power that could make me go back the time and be able to say something to you about those posts… Be able to congratulate you with a real hug for all your accomplishments… Be able to say how much I was proud of you, and how much I did love you, as if you were my own child…

In my way of trying to make sense of what happened, I found my own reason for why you left us so early… I believe that you were really, but really special, and God chose you, out of a million for a very important mission. You needed to touch the lives of so many people – inspire them, help them, teach them, love them… And so you did… But because you were so special – so darn efficient, you finished your mission too soon… And now you may be someplace else, in another mission, changing for the better the lives of so many people again.

You changed my life for better for sure. I learned from you that there is always a second in a day that I can send a “hello” to someone that I care – like the “hello Ms. Bannoooooo!!” that you sent to me, so many times, out of the blue… I learned that I have to say how much I appreciate and love my special people every time I see them, because there may not be another time that we would be able to do so.

Today was your birthday, but you are everyday in my thoughts and in my heart. I will love you always.

                                                                           Erika Banno


Zemser family,

It was a beautiful summer day in a dismal gray place.  No, the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, did not have much to offer in forms of entertainment.  This was simply a convenient geographical location for what seemed to be a parking lot for a quarter of the US Navy's ships.  From the outside, there was nothing all that special about our experiences on the USS Laboon: we followed enlisted sailors, we were briefed by officers, and we were able to leave once the workday was over.  Upon completion of the workday, all of us midshipmen were ecstatic to get off the ship, but that joy soon dissipated when we realized there wasn't much to run off to.


However, Nick, Z, and I decided to make the most of our two and a half week period in this dreary place.  We were determined to find the nearest gym to make sure we were fulfilling the physical mission of the Naval Academy - to make gainz and become physical animals.  Therefore, Norfolk turned out to be the ideal location for us three.  We didn't need much: a weightroom, a pool, and a base with lots of space to run (even if the scenery was sparse) were plenty to keep us occupied.  After our daily routine of about 3 hours (or more) of working out, we would head over to the food court to satisfy our growling bellies.  I believe we might have kept this Subway sandwich shop in business.  Finally, we would spend our last few hours of liberty at the rec center playing pool, ping pong, and maybe watching a movie.  Upon completion of our day, we would return to the ship to get some sleep and repeat the cycle.


Of course, it wasn't all work and no play for us three.  We did spend one Saturday at Virginia beach with the entire crew of midshipmen assigned to the same ship.  We went to the mall in downtown Norfolk, which was pretty much the only source of entertainment in the city.  We even had the opportunity to do some exploring on the base.  My youngster cruise was a blast, not because of the activities, but because of the people.  Whether it was us three spending the day with Rod, or we were simply working out to our hearts' content, this will forever be a memory I cherish in my heart.



It would not have been possible without Z.  I hope this memory brings encouragement to you as you read it.  God bless.


Very Respectfully,


 Robert L Stroup




  • "The worst joke teller to ever exist!!!"
  • "Could never give relationship advice, but he was sincere lol"
  • "Challenged me to grow on a daily basis"
  • "Always there when I needed advice"



I am from Texas, and Z never, ever let me forget it. I introduced him to country music, in particular George Strait. From that point onward, every conversation about Texas, he would be sure to include the comment, “Yeah, that’s where all my Ex’s live.” I guess that’s true. In Israel, our bromance was in the running for best couple – and I think we won.

               Together with Z, Nick Abramson and I made up what we called “The Tripod.” On Wednesday, a leg was torn away, and the Tripod began to wobble. I would like to take this moment to thank everyone for being there to keep us from falling. The love and support of our teammates, our companies, our friends, and our Brigade family has carried us through this tragedy. For this we will be forever grateful.

               There have been many things said about Z over the last few days, all of them amazing. I would like to share with you my memories of Z, so that you may understand the man he was – to me, to his family, to us all.

               Let me tell you about the man he was: A few weeks ago, Nick and I wanted to go see a movie. Of course, we wanted Z to come. He refused. We called him, we texted him, we basically begged him to come, but he wouldn’t. After much pleading, he finally told us why. He didn’t have any money in his bank account, and did not feel comfortable letting us pay for him. This was a lesson his father taught him, and he was not going to break this rule. Z was a man of principle.

               Let me tell you about the man he was: During third block last summer, Z and I gave up some of our leave to come back and train for the upcoming Sprint season. We had a lot of down time, which Z spent reading about Thomas Jefferson. I remember us having a deep, philosophical discussion about the beauty of Jefferson’s self-written epitaph. Z was a man of abstraction.

               Let me tell you about the man he was: over spring break, we travelled to Israel with the Jewish Midshipman Club. One day, we went to the IDF tank memorial. It just so happened that while we were there, an all-female class of soldiers was graduating from a training course. Boys being boys, Z and I were desperate to get pictures with them. As we walked toward them to ask for a picture, we noticed something that made us a little more reluctant. I’m not sure if you have ever seen a beautiful woman carrying a fully loaded M16, but it might possibly be the most intimidating thing on earth. We decided it was better to just look at the tanks. Z was a man of reality.

               Let me tell you about the man he was: last fall I always sat next to Z on the buses taking our team to and from games. I remember distinctly the ride back from the stadium after we crushed Army. Z broke down into tears, not of sadness, but of joy. He was overwhelmed by everything – his journey to make the team, the championship season, and most of all the love of his brothers. Z was a man of passion.

Z was all of these things to me, and many more.

There is a great photo on Facebook that was taken during our trip to Israel. That day, we went rappelling down a magnificent arch, giving us a glorious view of the valley below. In the picture, Z and I are reaching toward one another, trying to link hands before descending the rest of the way. This picture always makes me think of a poem Z liked to discuss with me. The English poet, John Keats, wrote a piece entitled “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Keats describes a scene of two lovers, eternally frozen in love, but forever apart.

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss;

Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou has not thy bliss,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

               Z told me that he believed the scene of the two lovers to be both beautiful and torturous. Their love is immortal, but so is their misery.

               Z, I love you brother. 



A STORY FROM Glen harris:

JZ, as I liked to call him, was a very close brother of mine on the sprint field. I remember how he always pushed me to work harder. I remember how he said he admired that I was able to play 2 sports and balance them so well. Being on special teams and offense together we often spent a lot of time on the field at the same time. I remember going out on a punt play once and he challenged me. "Hey trackstar, let's see how fast ya really are I'll race you to the tackle," he said to me as we trotted on the field. The ball was snapped and we both got there really fast at the same time causing a fumble to happen. The excitement from that play funneled in us as we jumped in jubilee. JZ also supported my track career. He attended as many meets as he could and would always ask me how I ran. Our birthdays are very close together with my being March 23rd. I remember when I turned 21 and I told him I can't wait to celebrate yours with you next year. I still plan to celebrate his 21st with him. I love you Justin, you are inspiration to me each and every day. Whenever I am having a rough day or a hard practice I often ask myself, What Would JZ Do? Fly High JZ83!

A Story from Nick Abramson:

I met Justin during plebe year. We were both in the locker room when I asked around to see if anyone wanted to go on a run. No one did, except Z. I didn’t really know Z at the time, but I knew he had been a manager for our team that year (that was about it). That very first run we went on together marked the beginning of an amazing friendship. It’s during that run that I learned he had similar aspirations as me with the SEAL community, and it would the mark the first of countless workouts we would do together. I also learned that he was a much better runner than me and that whenever you tell him you want to take it easy you will end up running hill sprints in the middle of a 4 mile run. I’m happy to say that never stopped, either. Justin was always the one who pushed the pace on the run or encouraged you to put just a little more weight on the bar. Z was a man that always strived to get better.


Z, Ross Gilchriest, and I made up what we cheesily named “the tripod”. Throughout all the swims, runs, workouts, homework sessions in Luce,), or getting food out in Annapolis, there was no one I’d rather spend time with than those two. Later that semester when the International Ball was being thrown, Z and I decided to go and check it out. I always thought, between the two of us, that I would be the one unafraid to go up to a girl and ask her to dance. I thought that I was going to have to play the wing-man card for Z. As it turned out, it was exactly the opposite. I would always wuss out and be uncomfortable going up to someone while he would have no problem approaching people. He surprised me that night, I didn’t know he had it in him. It’s safe to say that from that point on Justin was my go to guy if I ever needed a wing-man. Z was a man of confidence.


One of my favorite experiences with Justin was Youngster cruise out in Norfolk. Somehow we ended up on the same ship, and we were pumped it worked out that way. Although Norfolk absolutely sucks, and we had literally nothing to do at all except workout on liberty, it turned out to be a great time. He and another friend of ours, Bobby Stroup, forced me to go on multiple 10-mile runs and buy a bunch of books to read during our downtime (my favorite being The Go-Giver, which I have come to believe is the epitome of how Z lived his life – A must read for everyone).

The ship we were on was running drills basically the entire time we were there, and they told the Midshipmen to stay out of the way. Typically, this meant stay in one room for the duration of the drill (sometimes lasting up to 3 or 4 hours). Luckily we made friends with one of the GM’s (Gunners Mate) and he hooked it up so that more than once we managed to get locked into either the gun storage locker or right underneath the 5’’ gun. It always turned into us taking hilarious pictures with multiple M-16’s in hand or learning how to clean guns (which is actually not fun at all). Justin was just about the only person on this earth I’d be willing to get locked into a tiny tiny room with a ton of guns for 3 hours, because he knew how to make it fun. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Z was a man who knew how to have a good time.


One of my favorite stories to tell about Z is the time on one random weekend when Ross and I asked him to go out and get some food with us. We knew he wasn’t doing anything, so when he declined our offer we took it as some strange attack against our friendship. We kept pestering him and pestering him to come out but he kept saying no. Finally he told us the real reason he won’t go out is because he doesn’t have enough money. Of course we told him this was no big deal, we will spot you and you can just pay us back later. But no, he wasn’t having any of that. He said he is a grown man at this point and he should bear the responsibility of managing his money as a grown man should. So we never managed to make him budge, and the next time he came out to eat with us wasn’t until the next month’s pay check came in. Z was a man of principle.  


I found out what happened to Z on May 13, the day after the accident. I was attending a Dant’s call on the brigade. We knew something was up when the Dant arrived late to his own brief. When he finally did come up and he gave the news of Justin’s passing, I was in disbelief. Finding out that your best friend has passed away with 4000 other people didn’t make matters any better. I remember that the Sprint team immediately all got together and went to the locker room. We all just sat in there for a while, and cried, and embraced one another. Then we made our way to the field, where most of us spent the most time with Justin. Major Lake talked to the team and we all shared a long moment of silence and many prayers. I wasn’t okay for a while after his death, and I know there will always be a part of my heart that is missing because Justin is gone, but I was inspired to see how the team united in his remembrance. It amazed me that a person can have such a powerful influence on that many people. It assured me that Justin will always be remembered for the amazing man he was. He was the guy that we could count on to always be smiling, to always be working hard, and to always be setting the example for what it means to be a man.  Z was a man who was truly loved by all. 


I will never forget the times he and I would go back and forth on sports. I grew up a Philadelphia fan and Z, as you well know, loved the Giants. Being divisional rivals we would always get on each other about the opposing team. I will never forget watching the NFL draft with him this past year. I wanted my team the Eagles to draft this safety from Alabama. I told Z that once we drafted him the Eagles were finally going to be able to shut down Odell Beckham, his favorite player. (He disagreed with me wholly on that one.) But I continued to talk this guy up as the greatest safety ever, however the Giants picked before the Eagles. As the Giants were about to pick Z leans over and says, "I bet we take that safety you cannot stop talking about." Sure enough the Giants drafted him and Z was running around the room in excitement. He never let me live that moment down. Z loved sports and he was as passionate about his team as I am about mine. Although our teams were rivals, the good-natured joking about each other’s team brought us close together. Before the summer Z suggested that we go to an Eagles-Giants game together, and whichever team lost, that person would have to wear the other team's jersey. I was all for it. Unfortunately god needed him more than I did. I never thought I would root for the Giants, but every time I watch them play, I cannot help but think of Z.


Justin was the kind of you guy you just always wanted to be around. I remember my freshman year when he didn’t make the team and instead stayed on as a manager. He had a vision for making the team next fall and he spent every minute of his time chasing that dream. Though he was obviously not mandated to, he ran with the team after practice and when we all complained, we looked to him for his spirt and passion for this game.


Justin was an aspiring Navy SEAL and he embodied those values in all that he did. He had the greatest work ethic and character of any man I’ve ever met.  We had many opportunities to workout in our two years together, but I’ll never forget the last time we ever would. Just a couple days before Justin’s passing, we conducted our last team workout of the spring season.  Our strength coach, Justin Livezey put us through a grueling ‘circuit’ to test our conditioning and will to push through in the most trying of circumstances. We were paired together and in the times I felt like giving up, as usual, Justin was there to motivate me through it. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about Justin and his impact in my life and on the Naval Academy at large. His integrity, courage, and character were unlike any I’ve ever seen. I know he is looking down on us now as our angel and he will forever guide us.


I started playing Sprint Football my Junior year (I am in the class of 2016, so one year ahead of Justin), so the first year I made the team was the first year Justin made the team too. However, having been a manager for a year, Justin already knew his way around Sprint Football better than I did. We were both wide receivers, so from the very beginning, Justin was more than willing to help me learn the plays, and meet all the players on the team. Even though he was younger than me, I looked up to Justin. His constant smile and relentless effort are things I still try to emulate. We ended up becoming roommates when we stayed in hotels that year, and we only became closer.

My favorite memory of Justin was from the spring of 2014, when we were both hoping to make the team for the first time. Sometime during spring practices, Justin broke one of his fingers pretty badly. He tried to keep it quiet as long as he could, but we noticed that he always had tape on one hand. Regardless, he did not let an injury get in his way, he kept making incredible catches throughout the spring, and we both made the team. Only after spring practices were over for the summer did he allow them to put a cast on him. Early the next season, I broke my hand and needed surgery. As soon as they took the cast off, I tried to get back on the field as soon as I could. Remembering Justin playing with one hand, I convinced the trainer to let me do the same. I was not nearly as good as Justin at catching with one hand, but his example is what convinced me to push myself. I will keep the memory Justin set for me for the rest of my life. He was an awesome teammate and an awesome friend, and we all strive to live up to the standard he set by his actions every day.