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Godwin learns meaning of Memorial Day

Danny Derden asks students about the meaning of Memorial Day. Memorial Day has a special place in Danny Derden’s heart. As a veteran, the 5th-grade teacher at Godwin Elementary creates a Memorial Day museum in his classroom, complete with a PowerPoint to share the meaning behind the holiday with every student.

After transforming his classroom into a military memorabilia exhibit and memorial, Derden invited 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.

He kicks off every presentation by asking the students what the holiday means to them. This gives him a chance to show the somber significance of the day.

“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 the week prior to the Memorial Day weekend to allow every class in school to visit his classroom museum.

The informational PowerPoint explained that Memorial Day has been designated as the last Monday in May since 1971, and 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 hear Memorial Day presentation. “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 of Chad Jennings, the former Dallas Cowboy who previously served in the Air Force, where he played football for the Falcons before becoming an NFL player.

Derden pointed out two particularly special photos featuring two different boot camp classes, one was his class photo, and the other was the boot camp class featuring his wife, Cherie Derden, who works at Lacy Elementary and also served in the military.

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 in classroom.