WARNER ROBINS -- Amanda Brantley wanted to help her students understand the importance of remembering -- and honoring -- members of the military who sacrificed all for their country.
When she came upon a showing of Georgia’s Remembering Our Fallen memorial display at an educator’s conference on Jekyll Island, she knew she’d found the way.
Brantley is principal at Pearl Stephens Elementary School, and she straightaway scheduled the display for the school’s military appreciation week, shortly before Memorial Day.
“I was looking for a way to make sure our students knew people served our county and made sacrifices for our freedom--for their freedom,” Brantley said. “I wanted something that wasn’t just a display for military appreciation week, but something that would bring home the fact people, people from right here in Georgia, from our own communities, had sacrificed their lives for our country and to keep us safe.”
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Though Brantley used the display to help make students aware of all who’ve given their lives, the display itself features the almost 200 Georgians who’ve fallen since 9/11.
The Remembering Our Fallen memorial was originated in Nebraska in 2010 by Bill and Evonne Williams. Since then, displays have been created for different states.
The Georgia display utilizes photographs, flags and a variety of memorabilia to honor state service members. It includes handwritten notes and other mementos left by family, friends and comrades.
For example, Brantley said she met David Chatman of Albany, who traveled to visit the display while it was at the school. The memorial honors Chatman’s son-in-law, Senior Staff Sgt. Robert S. “Stacey” Goodwin, who was killed in Afghanistan by mortar attack.
Chatman brought with him a picture of his grandson, Goodwin’s son, and placed it alongside Goodwin’s picture. Goodwin’s son now serves in the Army and is stationed in Italy.
Brantley said she wasn’t satisfied with just having the Remembering Our Fallen memorial sit in the school’s lobby in hopes students would take notice. She said teachers brought students class by class to view the presentation.
But still, that wasn’t enough.
“I wanted them not just to see the memorial but to have an understanding of it,” she said. “Over the time it was here, we read the names of each person honored on the memorial during our morning announcements. Students read the names. As we read them we were also able to show their picture by video to all the students throughout the school. We believe we truly honored these heroes.”
And how did students respond?
“They were very quiet,” she said. “They were very solemn and respectful. The kids knew. They understood what it symbolized and that it wasn’t just another something to see; not just another sort of field trip.”
In addition to visitors from local and distant communities, Brantley said the display was visited and appreciated by personnel from Robins Air Force Base, many of whom serve as mentors at the school. She said she even got responses from across the country to pictures she put on Facebook about the display, even from family members of some of those pictured.
“We’ll be having Remembering Our Fallen again and I’m going to do even more to try to have service members and veterans groups come see it,” Brantley said. “I’m tentatively shooting for mid-April of 2016.”
Brantley said it costs $900 to bring the display to the school. Funds were raised through donations, she said, particularly two large gifts of military families.
Raylene Snyder of Milledgeville pointed to a photo of her son-in-law, Army Pfc. Kenneth E. “Aaron’’ Kincaid IV, who died in Iraq in September 2006 after an improvised explosive device, or IED, detonated. Kincaid was from Lilburn. The sight of his photo brought tears to Snyder’s eyes, and she immediately sought a pen and paper to inscribe another message for the traveling memorial.
She said she missed the exhibit the last time it was in the area but was glad she could see it this time. She said she was grateful to the local organizations that support families in need.
Lane Ledford said he had viewed every photo in the exhibit.
“I took the time to go through it and read everybody’s name and how they died and where they’re from,” he said. “I even saw some people from my hometown of Monroe. It’s very moving that they gave their lives for us.’’
According to the Remembering Our Fallen website, future showings of the display include June 13 at the Corporal John Stalvey Sniper Ride, Georgia National Guard Armory, 3100 Norwich, Brunswick; July 2-July 9 at Cabela’s, 152 Northport Parkway, Acworth; and Nov. 9-13 at Brookwood High School, 1255 Dogwood Road, Snellville.
Telegraph photographer Beau Cabell contributed to this report.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.