Archive for Thursday, October 26, 2006

WWI museum worth trip to KC

Guest opinion

October 26, 2006

Nearly 90 years ago, a 30-year-old American Red Cross nurse from Chanute became one of 69,000 Kansans who served the cause of liberty in the "Great War."

"How would you like to go to bed at night and be awakened by the booming of guns and the blowing of whistles and bugles," Florence Edith Hemphill wrote from the British hospital where she was serving in France in 1918.

"Some of them are seriously wounded, some gassed and some just lightly wounded," Hemphill wrote in another letter, about American soldiers in her hospital. "I am so glad we are getting to take care of some of them anyway. They are mighty nice boys and they are so glad to see someone from home."

And not long before she came home in 1919, Hemphill described the German prisoners she helped care for: "I suppose they are as glad to get home as our boys are. The most of these [men] will never fight again as most of them are with just one arm or something else just as bad. Several are blind - no eyes at all - caused by hand grenade."

Nurse Hemphill's firsthand look at the face of war is just one sampling from more than 49,000 objects and artifacts in the world-class collection of the new National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., which officially opens to the public Dec. 2.

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, which was recently designated a National Historic Landmark, is the first and only American museum solely dedicated to preserving the artifacts, history and experience of the Great War. It was officially designated America's National World War I Museum by Congress in 2004.

The museum is a treasure of global significance. Its collection, 96 percent of which has never been seen by the public, is a phenomenal educational resource that has been largely inaccessible until now.

Designed by Ralph Appelbaum, the pre-eminent museum exhibit designer in the world, this museum presents an immersive, interactive experience of a war whose impact still echoes around the world today.

From the partitioning of Mesopotamia, which laid the groundwork for today's crises in the Middle East, to the anger and embitterment that an obscure soldier named Adolf Hitler felt in Germany's defeat, to the use of mustard gas that prefigured weapons of mass destruction, we live in a world that was shaped by "the war to end wars."

Most important of all, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial reminds us, and future generations, that the values of honor, courage, patriotism and sacrifice are still relevant today.

In the words of one of the Midwest's most notable native sons, President Harry S. Truman (a World War I veteran himself), "The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know."

- Stephen R. Berkheiser, brigadier general, USMC (Ret.), is executive director of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, go to www.nww1.org.

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