USS Arizona

A model of the USS Arizona graces a display table at Calamus Wheatland School District’s activity center.

WHEATLAND — Tom VanBlaricome visited Pearl Harbor a few years ago on a family vacation, and he was intrigued when he heard about a program that could help bring a piece of World War II history to his students in the Calamus-Wheatland School District.

“I learned about a project through which relics of the USS Arizona are donated,” said VanBlaricome, who teaches junior high social studies and high school U.S. history. The battleship that sunk in Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, plays a prominent role in his lessons on the United States’ entry into World War II.

He got to work filling out an application to the U.S. Navy Department, which donates a limited number of pieces of the superstructure to qualifying non-profit veteran and educational organizations under federal law.

And at the school district’s Veterans Day celebration, the battle-worn relic was presented. The piece is from the aft deckhouse superstructure of the Arizona. It will be on display at the school, along with a drawing by Alyssa VanderHeiden and a model of the ship by Mason Wells, both students.

“It is a link to the greatest generation,” VanBlaricome said of the piece that sat on a table in front of the podium during the assembly. “This is an artifact, a relic of a time people lived through. It represents their service and their sacrifices for freedom for everyone.”

The Navy’s donation was a fitting part of a program attended by all grade levels to honor area veterans from all branches of service. The event included the presentation of colors by the local members of the American Legion, as well as musical performances by the high school band, a recognition of the veterans present with help from Cal-Wheat Girl Scout Troop 2423 and a speech by Kayla Martens, the district’s human resource specialist who served with the Iowa Army National Guard. Because Martens was out sick, Marika Pew, the district’s business official, read Martens’ prepared remarks.

Martens urged students to thank veterans for their service and urged them to strive for excellence.

“You will truly honor veterans’ lives by how you live your own. You are living in an amazing country, with unique and exceptional opportunities. Do not squander the freedoms afforded you from this country,” she said.

“Instead follow the example of these veterans. Serve others. Serve your nation, and learn to believe in yourself, even if you don’t think anyone else believes in you. To all the veterans here today, I sincerely thank you for your service and your sacrifice.”

The event ended with a gun salute to the dead, and a rendition of “Taps” by Jacob Coffman.

Nancy Mayfield is a staff writer with the DeWitt Observer.

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