Gogol, right, with the Color Guard.

by Sylvia Blair

This summer, 17-year-old Joseph Gogol will experience the trip of his lifetime, a trip that only a select few from the United States have the opportunity to enjoy.

Gogol, a student at Winters Mill High School, grew up an active child as the oldest in his family. Always captivated by history and military shows on television, he grew up with a reverence for military troops and a deep understanding of military history. He serves in the Winters Mill Junior ROTC program and plans to enlist in the Marine Corps after he graduates in 2019.

Joseph is also a noncommissioned officer with the Carroll County Young Marines, an organization he joined in 2013 that offers a youth education and service program for boys and girls ages 8 through completion of high school. 

This July, in commemoration of the centennial of the end of World War I, the national organization is sponsoring a World War I and World War II Adventure that will launch Young Marines on an 11-day tour of battlefields in France.  The trip will take participants to visit historic battlefields in which key battles were fought.

“Every Young Marine in the national program had an opportunity to apply, but only 12 were chosen, two from each division and the national organization has six divisions,” said Unit Commander Ralph Dornon. “Each winner was chosen by our national organization.” 

“I am so appreciative to have been selected to participate in this trip,” said Joseph. “I am truly honored because the selection process was challenging. This will be a humbling experience to stand at the spots where so many lost their lives.” 

The criteria for selection included at least one year of service in the program, a unit commander endorsement, and the submission of a 500- to 800-word essay, along with a completed application. 

“My essay derived from the Marine Corps national museum in Quantico. I studied World War I displays about Belleau Wood and the firsthand accounts of the experiences from the Marines who served,” Joseph added. “I wrote a creative essay that was a ‘letter from home’ in which I put myself in the shoes of a Marine. Using historical fiction, I described what I thought life might be like in those days. I really enjoyed writing the essay.” 

An excerpt from Joseph’s fictional letter to home from war illustrates his powerful and compelling writing style, blended with his passion for the topic:  “When the assault began, I felt as if I were in a charging stampede, but as I approached the field’s edge, I suddenly felt all alone. As the ragged remains of what were once two battalions reached the last few yards before the wood line, we assembled and listened as the Gunny gave us our tasks for our next push …” 

Gogol with General Glenn M. Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Young Marines is a perfect fit for Joseph, said his mother, Sharon Gogol.

 “One of the things that we like is the focus on recognition and support of veterans. We also like the fact that the organization helps youth to recognize a drug-free lifestyle and to appreciate the importance of community involvement like parades and color guards,” she added.

“When we learned of Joseph’s selection for the trip, we did a jumping high-five and gave him a deep, long hug,” she remembered. “The organization of this trip is pretty incredible. And the fact that Joseph took the time to enter the competition and was selected gives us great pride.” 

Joseph has been interested in visiting Normandy and other battlegrounds to learn more about that era in history, his father, Mark Gogol, said. Combined with his interest in creative writing, the project was a natural opportunity for Joseph to pursue.

“We have always instilled respect in Joe, which has also been part of his nature and personality,” said Mark. “He always gravitated towards trying new and different things. Joe enjoys the fact that the Young Marines allows him to travel to training camps and to do service work in a variety of places.” 

Joseph’s total service hours are approaching the 1000-hour level.

 “Staff Sergeant Gogol has moved up the ranks through hard work, ethics and dedication,” Dornan said. “It is his leadership qualities that I admire the most, because even when he is propelling forward to achieve more, he gives back to his fellow Young Marines with encouragement to do the same. But for this Young Marine, it is more about thinking about the team as a whole and not just for oneself to elevation.”

Matthew Leibensperger, a social studies and English teacher at Winters Mill, is not surprised that Joseph received this honor. “Last year in honors U.S. history, Joseph was a fantastic student. He asked thoughtful questions and always brought his interest in military history into play in the classroom. If he chooses to join the military, I could imagine him eventually teaching military history.”

Unit Commander Dornon believes that Joseph will continue to serve as a role model, even more informed and energized when he returns from the trip. 

“He takes all opportunities seriously and strives to get all that he can from them,” Dornon said.