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Godwin learns meaning of Memorial Day

Mr. Derden shakes hands with students after they leave the Memorial Day exhibit. Donning a patriotic American flag tie, 5th-grade teacher Danny Derden had a mission – to teach every student at Godwin Elementary the meaning behind Memorial Day.

After transforming a classroom into a military memorabilia exhibit and memorial, Derden welcomed students from every class and grade level to show them that the holiday is more than just barbecue cookouts and a day off from school.

“It’s important to teach them what Memorial Day is all about,” said Derden, who served in the Air Force branch of the military before becoming a teacher. “The students have a general idea about service, but they need to know that Memorial Day comes at a great cost. It’s to remember and honor those veterans who have died. This is different from Veteran’s Day.”

Derden organized a schedule for the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend to allow every class in school to visit the presentation.

“I used to do this same thing for years when I taught at Lacy,” Derden said. “When we were discussing how to handle Memorial Day this year, they asked if I could do this again.”

The presentation kicked off with a somber, informational PowerPoint. In addition to showing that Memorial Day has been designated as the last Monday in May since 1971, the students were able to see images from the National Cemetery, as well as videos from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“They need to see that when people visit these landmarks, it should be about silence and respect to honor the sacrifice these soldiers made for them,” Derden said. “This might sound strange, but the National Cemetery is my favorite place to visit.”

The video also featured the 21-gun salute and the constant guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Students prepare to watch the Memorial Day PowerPoint. “When they are shooting the howitzers as part of the salute, they are facing the tomb, which honors the memories of soldiers they were unable to identify, honestly, because they were probably blown to bits,” Derden candidly told the students. He provides these details to teach the reality of the sacrifice the men and women serving in the military are asked to make.

Following the video, the students were invited to tour the room, much like a visit to a museum. The exhibit featured everything from uniforms and commendations to personal and historic photos and a signed football card.

“I like to show this trading card signed by Chad Jennings,” Derden said of the former Dallas Cowboy who previously served in the military. “Chad Jennings played for the Air Force Falcons before becoming a Dallas Cowboy. He signed this trading card when I was stationed at the Air Force Academy, and he’d stopped by to visit.”

Derden pointed out two particularly special photos featuring two different boot camp classes. He was on the top row in one picture, and his wife, Cherie Derden, who works at Lacy Elementary and also served in the military, was in the top row of the other photograph.

“I think it’s pretty cool that we are both in the exact same spot in our boot camp photos,” he said.

It’s evident that Derden is passionate about the military and its role to protect the citizens of the United States as he prides himself in being able to share a part of history with the students.

“I have a lot of interesting stories about everything in here,” Derden said. “And I’m glad to be able to help the students understand what all this means.”

Military uniforms hang on the classroom wall.