A U.S. Naval Academy midshipman from Queens killed in Tuesday's Amtrak crash was recalled Friday as a gifted scholar and athlete whose family believed he could have become the nation's first Jewish president.
Hundreds of friends, relatives and fellow sailors remembered Justin Zemser, 20, as embodying the best qualities of the Navy -- he was selfless, smart and courageous.
"To have a life so full of richness and potential truncated at the age of 20 is truly unconscionable," the victim's uncle, Richard Zemser of Merrick, told mourners at Boulevard-Riverside-Hewlett Chapel in Hewlett.
"To know that Justin died the way he did and because a train was moving at an obnoxious and deadly speed is unconscionable," he said. "Justin's zest and love of life . . . the love of his Jewishness, the love of learning, the love of adventure, are all gone in one single, obscene action."
On leave from the academy, Zemser was headed home Tuesday night when the Manhattan-bound Northeast Regional came off the tracks in Philadelphia while traveling 106 mph. Zemser's funeral was the first to be held for the eight people killed in the derailment.
Raised in Far Rockaway, he was the valedictorian, student body president and captain of the football team at his high school, Channel View School for Research.
At the academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he was a standout member of the Navy sprint football team and vice president of the Jewish Midshipmen Club. He was working toward becoming a Navy SEAL -- one of the most elite units in the U.S. military.
In the chapel's front row, Zemser's parents, Howard and Susan, lowered their heads in grief as one mourner after another described their son's gifts for leadership, academics and athletics.
Dozens of midshipmen dressed in crisp white uniforms wiped away tears and recited parts of Hebrew prayers.
Capt. Brandy Soublet, Zemser's commanding officer, called him "one of the most talented young men I've ever met. And even more than talented, he was humble."
Howard Zemser said his son was a voracious reader and fitness enthusiast who "accomplished in 20 short years of life more than most people could actually do in a lifetime."
"I love you, son. I miss you, son," the father said, a few feet from the coffin, draped with an American flag. "The hole in my heart will never be filled."