Earlier this fall, students around the state were invited to write an essay about a military veteran. When Azaylea Olson heard about the writing contest, the Silver Mesa Elementary fifth-grader’s thoughts focused on a veteran she knows and loves: retired United States Navy Aviation Radioman 1st Class Jim Weakland — or, as she calls him, “Poppy.”
“I was thinking it would be fun because I heard that my grandfather had been in the Navy since I was 2,” Azaylea said. “I thought it would be fun because I knew he went to Vietnam, and I also wanted to learn about him.”
Poppy accommodated his granddaughter’s request, and shared details with her about his four-year military tenure. Enthralled, she typed notes as her grandfather told her about his adventures, which she then shared in her essay that won the first-place prize in the statewide contest sponsored by the Utah PTA and Utah National Guard.
Azaylea’s award-winning essay, which comes with a $100 prize, will be shared during the 67th annual Veterans Day Concert on Friday night at the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Schoolmates at Silver Mesa listened to her read it during a video presentation at school on Friday morning. Poppy attended the fifth-grade assembly with Azaylea’s grandmother and mom, Silver Mesa secretary Suzie Olson.
The special moment at Silver Mesa was one of many ways Canyons School District schools honored veterans who served the country and put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. The day was marked with red, white and blue displays, art shows, activities, assemblies, breakfasts, and musical performances.
Among the events and activities: Albion Middle students helped inspire feelings of patriotism this Veterans Day by posting flags around the campus. At a touching Alta High ceremony, which drew a packed gymnasium of students and members of the community who served in the military, teachers tearfully welcomed former students who arrived in the dress uniforms. The event also featured a pitch-perfect performances of the National Anthem by the Alta choir and a rousing Armed Forces Medley by the Hawks’ award-winning band.
Park Lane Elementary’s PTA hosted a “Muffins with the Military.” Brookwood students posted American flags around the school. Ridgecrest students received a heartwarming lesson about patriotism from U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Rick Smith and participated in a schoolwide recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Midvalley fifth-graders performed in front of whole school, families, and veterans from our community.
At Sunrise Elementary, fifth-graders saluted veterans with a patriotic program that spotlighted local veterans. Honored members of the U.S. Armed Forces were greeted as heroes by Quail Hollow Elementary students and during a stirring assembly.
At Willow Canyon Elementary, photographs of veterans, many of whom are relatives of students and faculty, were displayed in classrooms and on social media. Each class also wrote thank you cards to veterans, including the art teacher.
The Canyons Board of Education and Administration also express their appreciation to employees who are current or former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Each year, CSD sends a letter to the educators, administrators, and Education Support Professionals who served in the military.
“We honor the strength it requires to defend and fortify our country’s promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” reads part of the letter sent to veteran employees this year.
The Silver Mesa student’s essay shared details about how Radioman Weakland voluntarily joined the military in 1962, took a train from Pennsylvania to San Diego for his 16-week bootcamp, witnessed a 40-foot tsunami slam the airfield while he was stationed at the Kodiak, Alaska Navy base, traveled across the world on the U.S.S. Kearsarge CVS-33 aircraft carrier, and assisted in the U.S. military efforts by providing air support from the Gulf of Tonkin using information gathered through his top-secret crypto clearance.
“I’m proud of my Poppy for serving in the military when he didn’t have to,” Azaylea wrote. “He didn’t necessarily have a job that put him in much danger, but his job was very important as he was responsible for sending top-secret information to our troops so they had all the information they needed to be safe themselves.”
Poppy was touched by his granddaughter’s interest in his life and by what she wrote.
“It brought tears to his eyes when he read the essay she wrote about him,” said Suzie Olson, her mom and his daughter.
Added Jim, “I thought it was fantastic.”