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Veterans Writing Group of San Diego Ernie Pyle Award

1st winner$1,027
2nd winner$513
Application Deadline
Sep 30, 2023
Winners Announced
Oct 11, 2023
Education Level
Recent scholarship winners
Eligibility Requirements
Education Level:
Undergraduate student
Veteran or active military
2.0 or greater

With the rising costs of college making higher education less accessible each year, many students take advantage of military tuition assistance to fund their college degrees.

The Veterans’ Writing Group of San Diego was started more than ten years ago as a way for veterans of all ages and all sorts of military experience to test their memories and their writing skills in hopes of seeing the value of their works in print. Our mutual experiences as writers have led us to compile and publish four books loaded with stories and essays by veterans. The sale of these books and other generous donations allows us to provide the books free to veterans in nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, and to veteran groups e.g., the USO. 

Ernie Pyle set an example during WWII, writing as a war correspondent about the common GI so that people back home could identify with the tragedy of war and connect to our soldiers, sailors, and airmen. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his descriptions of the "dogface" soldiers around him in the battlefields of Europe. Tragically, Ernie lost his own life in the battle for Okinawa in 1944.

In honor of Ernie and the Veterans’ Writing Group, this scholarship seeks to support military veterans and those who are active in the military pursue their education and cover their college expenses. 1st place will receive $1,000 and 2nd place will receive $500.

Any veteran or active military member who is an undergraduate student and willing to have their essay published may apply for this scholarship.

To apply, submit an essay of approx. 250-500 words on "What my military service has taught me about the meaning of patriotism".

Selection Criteria:
Ambition, Need, Boldest Profile
Published February 27, 2023
Essay Topic

What has your military service has taught you about the meaning of patriotism?

250–500 words

Winning Applications

Gerardo Blanco
Grand Canyon UniversityMenifee, CA
Patriotism holds a profound significance for me, shaped by my journey that began when I joined the Marine Corps right after high school in 2011. Over the years, my deployments to the East China Sea, Gulf of Aden, Djibouti, and humanitarian work in the Northern Mariana Islands, specifically on Tinian, have enriched my understanding of what it truly means to be a patriot. For me, patriotism embodies a dynamic commitment that extends beyond geographical boundaries and encompasses service, empathy, and positive representation. Having traversed distant seas and witnessed diverse cultures, I've come to understand that true patriotism is about answering the call when one's country requires support. Serving isn't just a duty; it's a testament to the values and principles that define a nation. Whether aiding less privileged individuals or participating in critical missions, patriotism is a reflection of our collective responsibility. In Djibouti, the resilience of communities amid adversity demonstrated that patriotism is a global responsibility. This realization was solidified during my involvement in humanitarian efforts on Tinian, where I saw firsthand the impact of extending a helping hand to rebuild lives. Patriotism, thus, is the embodiment of compassion and solidarity. However, patriotism is not solely about action; it's also about representation. Every step taken and every interaction had while representing one's country is a reflection of its ideals. Upholding local customs, fostering respect, and promoting goodwill contribute to this positive representation. My journey, which began as a commitment right after high school, has evolved over time, shaped by my experiences and dedication. As an active-duty member of the Marine Corps, I recognize that patriotism is a commitment that deepens with experience. It's not confined to uniforms; it's about internalizing unity, empathy, and duty. It underscores the interconnectedness of our world, emphasizing that the well-being of others is intertwined with our own. Patriotism is a pledge to be a catalyst for positive change, regardless of the setting – be it the high seas, remote islands, or our immediate surroundings. In summation, my deployments and engagements, spanning over a decade of active duty, have illuminated the essence of patriotism as a mosaic of service, empathy, and responsible representation. This understanding guides my actions and amplifies my dedication. As I pursue scholarship opportunities, I'm reminded that patriotism is not merely a concept; it's a way of life that molds our decisions and shapes the world around us.
James Dombrowski
Azusa Pacific UniversityLos Angeles, CA
I learned to be patriotic from the greatest men I knew growing up: my Grandpa Jack and my father Paul. Grandpa Jack, my mother’s dad, was a highly decorated U.S. Army Aircore Chief Navigator and was awarded the WWII Victory Ribbon, Air Medal with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, and many more awards and decorations. My father was a U.S. Navy Captain who served a combination of active duty and reserve duty for a combined 28 years. He was also highly decorated and awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his outstanding service as Chief of Staff Naval Forces Alaska following 9/11. I am inclined to mention these details about them because I believe them to have strongly influenced my sense of patriotism and my desire to serve. Since childhood, I believed patriotism was both a feeling of love and obligation towards our country. After serving in the U.S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, my view of patriotism did not change much. I still believe that patriotism involves a feeling of obligation and pride for one's country, but I also think that it means loving the flaws in history, regardless of heinousness, and choosing to take action to protect Americans' lives and freedoms. I can recall being just a child and feeling proud to be an American as my Grandpa Jack retold his stories from WWII. That special pride I felt listening to his stories stuck with me for years and even through the time I was stationed at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, Japan. As a Corpsman, I had the opportunity to take a flight into Iwo Jima to step on the same battlefield my grandfather landed on during the War. This was not only a very heartfelt experience for me as a member of a multigenerational military family, but also as a patriot. While standing on historical land, I felt a connection to all the soldiers who fought in WWII, including my other grandfather, U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant Stanley Dombrowski. I'd like to highlight 2 meaningful takeaways from both my grandpas’ war stories: (1) the U.S. lost half a million soldiers and (2) every single American contributed in one way or another to help their fellow countrymen survive through a desperate time in our history. Such sacrifices are part of what being patriotic means to me: showing resilience and fighting for our people’s right to life and liberty, despite times of destruction and loss of life. Lastly, my father was also a huge influence on my view of patriotism. When 9/11 occurred he didn't hesitate to go from USNR to active duty once again. This act of bravery on his part evoked passion and a great sense of honor in me that has never ceased. Ever since that day, I’ve wanted to follow in my father's footsteps. By dedicating 5 years of my life and surrendering my civilian freedoms, I would be making the ultimate act of patriotism: an act of sacrifice and bravery to serve and protect my fellow Americans.
Damion Galley
MiraCosta CollegeVista, CA
The Phone Call That Changed My Life Forever The year was 2007. I was eighteen years young, uncultured, having lived in a trailer in small town Oklahoma my entire life. Now that high school was over, I was lost and confused about what I should do in this next chapter. Nearly all of my friends would follow in the steps of their older siblings, parents, and generations before them. They would start a family young - usually by the time they are nineteen or twenty years old - and find a blue collar job in the oil fields, construction, plumbing, or electrical work. Some would inevitably become addicted to methamphetamines or other illegal drugs. I looked around and did not want any of what my friends had, or would end up having. All I wanted was an escape, but I did not know where to start. I would like to think that most people can go to their parents or family for guidance on what steps to take after high school to be successful. That guidance did not exist for me. College was not spoken of in my house, so further education was the farthest thing from my young mind. I did not know my biological father, my mother was a drug addict, my stepfather was emotionally and verbally abusive, and I did not have anyone to mentor or guide me after I graduated high school. An escape from such a cycle of poverty is difficult to imagine when you are young and surrounded by generations of people who stay in a small town with a population of less than eight hundred people. At that point I felt helpless, alone, and afraid. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. However, unbeknownst to me, my stepfather passed my phone number to a Marine Corps recruiter and my phone began ringing off the hook. After dozens of ignored phone calls over weeks and weeks, I finally decided to answer a call from the recruiter. Little did I know, by answering that phone call I was making a decision that would ultimately change my life forever. Fast forward to the year 2010. I had completed three years of service, was a Corporal in the Marine Corps, and I was on my way to Afghanistan for the first time to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom. I was finally going to war! I would tell myself, “This is what you signed up for. It’s time to go get some!”. I was excited, nervous, but above all eager to experience the thing that so many Marines before me idolized and glorified, war. Now I was a real member of the gun club, I told myself. After two days of flying across the world and sitting through layovers, we finally landed in Afghanistan. It was like a different planet in the mind of a young man who had lived his whole life in small town Oklahoma. I had watched war movies and thought I had a good idea of what Afghanistan would be like. To put it bluntly, I was utterly wrong. Afghanistan was like taking a step into a time machine and going back thousands of years. I remember the dust was overwhelming and there was not a tree in sight. I heard one senior Marine shout, “Oh, how I love the moon dust!”, as he trounced around in the dust, creating a brown cloud so thick you could barely see him in his desert camouflage utilities. The dust was so fine you couldn’t help but create a cloud of it in your wake as you walked around. I had no idea why the senior Marine loved it, or did he? He was probably flexing his experience to us young guys who had never deployed before. After landing in Afghanistan, my unit was moved to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Helmand Province. Helmand Province is in southern Afghanistan and is flat, dusty, and a hub for Taliban harvesting of black tar opium. When we arrived at the FOB we had electricity, air conditioning, all the food you could eat, a gym, with a place where you could get on the internet and even call back to the U.S. free of charge! The accessibility to the internet and comfortable amenities is not at all what I was expecting on a combat deployment. I was an Intelligence Analyst by trade and for the first six months of my deployment I found myself planted behind a desk, staring at a computer screen, trying to read and interpret intelligence reports so the real war fighters could kill or capture high value enemy combatants. I considered the real war fighters to be infantrymen who were not stuck at computers all day typing and reading, but rather out “hooking and jabbing”, fighting the Taliban. There I was, excited to go to war, only to find myself doing nothing different than I was doing back in the U.S. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I wanted to fight! I wanted to see combat! That is what my twenty-one year old self desperately wanted, or so I thought. My desire to actually fight the Taliban quickly consumed me. I wanted to send bullets down range in defense of my country, my brothers and sisters, and ultimately myself. I would ask my Gunny on a daily basis to send me to a more tactical level unit so I could go fight. I was told no, repeatedly, for months. I remained persistent in my requests and one day my request was granted. I was headed to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, to fight in Trek Nawa. Trek Nawa was an area just east of a city called Marjeh. Many iconic battles took place in Marjeh, so surely I was going to get to see actual combat action. When I arrived at 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, I ended up at the Battalion Headquarters on a small FOB doing the same tasks I did for the unit I initially deployed with. I was stuck behind a computer for at least twelve hours a day, reading intelligence reports, and creating target packages so the real war fighters could go kill or capture high value enemy combatants. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I thought to myself, “If begging to get to a more tactical level worked at my previous unit, then maybe it will work here.” The worst thing they could tell me was no, right? So began my incessant requests to go to an even more tactical level, still in the hopes I could stand to the left and right of my brothers and fight the Taliban with bullets, not strokes of keys on a keyboard from an air conditioned room. This time it did not take months for my request to be granted. It took only a couple of weeks. I was typing at a computer and my Staff Sergeant came to me, almost in a panic saying, “Grab your things, you’re going with that convoy parked outside.”. I asked what I should bring and how long I would be gone and I was met with, “Bring everything. I don’t know how long you’ll be there.” At this point I did not know where I was going, who I was going with, or what we would be doing. Would I be stuck behind yet another computer doing the same thing, or would this be my moment? I would find out soon enough. Approximately twelve hours after I was told to grab all of my gear and join the convoy, I found myself in a situation I had never experienced before. I was now the intelligence analyst attached to an infantry platoon of approximately thirty Marines. The mission was to establish a new patrol base (PB) in an area where U.S. troops had no presence whatsoever. PBs are small and typically house anywhere from thirty to forty Marines. The PB we were establishing was a local national’s mud house that they were in the process of building. During the pre-mission brief I found out that the roads leading to the new patrol base were laden with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) so we would have to travel approximately fifteen kilometers on foot before reaching the objective. Let me remind you, I was not an infantryman. I had been sitting behind a desk typing intelligence reports and creating briefings for senior leadership for months on end. This change in dynamic did not scare me though. I was in great shape, went to the gym daily, was overall physically fit, and I was confident in my abilities. My confidence would be quickly deflated, more like demolished, and I soon found myself second guessing all my life’s decisions up to that point. We began the movement early in the morning to establish the new PB. I was unsure of my role in the movement and tagged along with one of the infantrymen, named K, who pulled me under his wing knowing I was inexperienced. He did not know how inexperienced I was though. I followed him through the middle of wet fields, jumping over six plus feet deep canals measuring anywhere from four to six feet wide, with upwards of eighty pounds of gear on my back. I was not used to this type of conditioning, but my ego would not allow me to show my fellow Marines how exhausted I was. At the peak of my exhaustion was when it happened. The cracking and snapping of rounds started flying overhead and the other Marines and I were caught in the middle of a poppy field. We could partially conceal ourselves in the poppy plants, but there was no protection or cover. As I lay on the ground all I hear are the Marines yelling instructions on where the rounds were coming from, how far away the enemy was, and who needed to move and where they needed to move to. These Marines were seasoned war fighters. Some of them were on their second combat deployment and still could not enjoy a beer when they returned home because they had not turned twenty-one yet. While these brave young men stood tall at the face of potential death, I was face down in the dirt scared beyond measure. I felt paralized. I had never experienced being at the end of another man’s firearm. I will never forget the adrenaline rush I felt when the firefight first began. It tasted as if I had tossed a handful of pennies in my mouth. It seemed like an hour had passed with me laying as flat as possible in the poppy field, but it was more like thirty seconds. As I came out of the panic, K ran up to me and asked in the most calm manner, “Is this your first firefight?” I told him yes and from then on during the engagement I stuck close with him. Everything that followed was a blur. The human mind is an amazing thing. So much had happened, but I was on autopilot. During the chaos that day, we lost a young man. He was twenty years old and had his entire life ahead of him. That day was filled with pain, sorrow, and mourning. Our nation lost a hero. A family lost a son. His brothers in arms lost a brother. Decisions have a profound impact on where we end up in life. Unbeknownst to most people, sometimes the smallest decisions can set you on a path that you cannot fathom. One of my most impactful life altering decisions was to answer a phone call from a recruiter when I was eighteen years old. When I answered the phone call from the Marine Corps recruiter, I did not know what I was getting myself into. I knew I wanted a way out of that small town in Oklahoma. I knew I did not want to follow in the footsteps of my parents and family. I was tired of being disappointed. The decision to answer my phone would lead to one of the most life-altering experiences I have endured, war. We lost many honorable men and women in Afghanistan, but it was not in vain. Their memory lives on forever in the minds of not only those who served alongside them, but in their families, children, and all those who knew them. They touched more lives, in more ways, than I can put into words. My experiences in war play a large part in who I am today. I have seen first-hand how swiftly this life can end. War taught me to value life. War gave me a perspective on life that most people will never understand. Fast forward nearly twelve years. Today I am out of the Marine Corps, have a family, and do my best to make decisions that I believe will guide me, my wife, and my children on a path to happiness and success. Now, when I sit down and smell the fresh air, cuddle my children, and kiss my wife, I tell myself, “To say you’re blessed is an understatement.”
Rachel Griffin
Cerritos CollegeWhittier, CA
Pursuing an Education “Due to poor academic performance… you are being academically dismissed… if you wish to appeal this decision…” I remember reading the letter repeatedly until I was finally able to grasp just what the letter, I received was telling me. “I’m getting kicked out of college?” I asked to myself in utter disbelief. I knew I was doing horrible the entire year, but for some reason couldn’t accept that it was really happening. A million questions began to race through my mind. “Is there any way out of this?” “How do I tell my family?” “Who can I blame?” “Is it too late?” At nineteen years old I told myself that it was the beginning of the end of my life. I immediately started to regret attending college and started ridiculing myself for ever believing that I could go far. I just became a statistic. The year following was filled with feelings of self-loathing, regret, and helplessness. Working dead end jobs but feeling like my life had become stagnant made me miserable. I noticed that those around me were better than me, smarter than me, and were on the right path to become more successful than me. With this realization came envy. What could I do to close the gap between myself and those in the same demographic group? The journey after getting academically dismissed was filled with errors, and though I did let these errors deter me from my goal, becoming a better version of myself, I did not let these errors stop me. During this journey my mind proved to be poisonous time and time again. I was the biggest obstacle to myself. With my mind evolving from the event that took place also came feelings of longing to escape, helplessness, and self-loathing. I started to realize that getting kicked out college was a big deal, and wasn’t an ideal situation to be stuck in. It’d be virtually impossible to get back into any college, so what now? I began to descend the stairway into what felt like an everlasting bout of depression. I stayed home every day, slept in late and didn’t hang out with any of my friends. I showered maybe once or twice a week. This behavior continued several months. When would I stop feeling sorry for myself and forgive myself for the mistake I made? My eldest sister realized that something wasn’t right and asked me to accompany her somewhere. We began talking and she asked me how I felt. Five minutes passed before I had an answer. “I feel like I’m just existing.” Tears began to fall freely down my cheeks as she pulled me in a warm embrace. She tried to convince me that if I continued to do nothing with my life, I would never encounter the feeling of self-fulfillment. I reflected on this heavily, and I would learn to make the most of the situation I was in even if it was rock bottom. So, without really knowing where to begin, I searched for options that could help me reform my current self. I tried trade school where I was also introduced to the ASVAB test and ended up scoring a 77. I completed trade school and gained some useful skills that could have landed me a nice office job. Why did I still feel incomplete and lacking? I begrudgingly moved on with life, feeling that my life plateaued. I thought back to my 77 ASVAB score, and joined the military thinking it would make me feel accomplished. And it did. The United States Marine Corps reformed me completely. I served on active duty for a total of four years as a 0621 (Radio Operator). During this time, I’ve built everlasting friendships, and became someone I could be proud of again. I learned to appreciate who I was again. I became a resilient person and learned how to grow from my mistakes. I didn’t realize how much I changed until this year. Until I began to attempt earning a degree (in Dental Hygiene). Again. I have had a metamorphosis that allowed me to reform the person that I was, and it was undoubtedly thanks to joining the military. I have matured and have also attacked my ignorance and realized that I would have to work towards the person that I want to become. Moving forward today, I still work hard towards making myself better than who I was yesterday. I will continue to persevere through my obstacles of self-doubt and insecurity. I have learned that there are consequences to pursuing an education. Some will be good, and some will be bad, so to speak. My mind wasn’t always as resilient as it is now, but I’ve learned to grow from my mistakes and I learned to let my mistakes make me better, not overwhelm me.
Conner Maris
MiraCosta CollegeEscondido, CA
In the weeks following a short trip to Africa, my battalion was working hard at recovery tasks as equipment arrived back to Fort Campbell. The week was close to its end. The battalion was gathered in the motor pool waiting for our long weekend closeout to take place. Like any other Thursday before a four-day weekend we’d hear about the battalion’s progress during the week, learn about what else needs to happen in the next week, and eventually hear another one of Sarnt Major’s amazing long weekend safety briefs. It was a terribly hot and humid day in August, the kind of day an NCO might break a sweat while watching the privates sweep around the trucks. I couldn’t wait to be back in the A/C driving home to relax for the weekend. While the privates were looking around the motor pool and inside the trucks for anything out of place or any trash that was missed earlier, someone noticed an odd sound coming from the inside of one of the humvees. We couldn't tell where the sound was coming from at first, but we realized pretty quickly that we could hear a very faint meow coming from one of the trucks. There were no obvious signs of a cat being inside of any particular truck until some more searching was done. Tucked far underneath the driver’s seat of one of the trucks were the noisy kittens. After a few scratches and some impressive contortions another soldier had retrieved three of the smallest kittens I’d ever seen. Before I knew it, myself and two others, who already had pets, were “volun-told” to take the cats home at the end of the day. About a minute later I was handed a cardboard box that held my new pet. I looked inside to get a closer look, and a tiny head tried to look up at me and hiss. I realized after getting closer that this cat was much younger than any other cat I had seen. We decided to put the kittens together in my truck so they could wait in the A/C until formation was over. Once we were released for the weekend, the other two cats were removed from my truck and taken to their new homes. When I left work, I took the kitten straight to the vet. I showed them the cat and they started telling me about how much extra work was needed to take care of such a young cat. The vet told me that by their best guess the kitten must have only been about two or three weeks old. He only had a couple of teeth, and could barely stand on his own. The vet sent me back out with a list of things I’d need and pretty detailed instructions about taking care of the new humvee cat. I came home with cat formula, syringes, and other kitten staples. The new cat needed attention about every hour and didn’t want to be left alone anywhere. So, for the rest of the long weekend a shoebox full of towels, and a sleeping cat accompanied me everywhere I went. Luckily, he wasn’t large enough to climb out of the shoebox so my weekend didn’t change too much. He rode around town with me when I did errands, and even came over to my buddy’s house for a BBQ. In the beginning all he could do was eat and sleep. In the following weeks, he became more and more active and started to show some personality. He couldn’t be happier to have been taken out of a hot and dirty humvee to live in his new home. Almost immediately my older cat took a liking to him, and before we knew it he had fit himself right into everyone’s lives. I didn’t think I wanted another cat at the time, but after taking care of the stray kitten everyone was glad to have him around. He always had a bit of a wild streak in him which was usually good for a laugh. Even my dogs enjoyed having him around. He loved to harass them into playing with him, and when they weren’t playing he could often be found napping with them. The little humvee cat only spent a couple years with my other pets and me, but everyday he reminded me to slow down and be thankful for everything I have. Life in the Army was often frustrating and stressful. Transitioning out was just as stressful and especially daunting. There would always be something to be upset about if I looked for it, but remembering how fortunate I really was helped me every step of the way. Each day it seemed that the cat remembered how lucky he was that he didn’t perish in a hot humvee one weekend in August. Each day I was reminded how lucky I was to have the opportunities I did. Each day I was reminded how a small act from one person can have a massive effect on another. Because of the little humvee cat, I remembered each day to take the time to be thankful, and appreciate what I had.


When is the scholarship application deadline?

The application deadline is Sep 30, 2023. Winners will be announced on Oct 11, 2023.

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