Archive for Thursday, July 17, 2008

WWI museum a trip worth taking

July 17, 2008

Looking for a great attraction close to home? If you have the remotest interest in history, I would suggest a trip to the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. It is just over 20 miles from the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville-Basehor area, yet it whisks you back some 80 years when the world was engulfed in the "war to end all wars." The long and bloody conflict caused some nine million deaths and changed the world forever.

The museum is unique in that it is the only one that is dedicated solely to World War I. I came out of the museum with a tremendous appreciation for what happened worldwide in that four-year time span. Without a doubt, the museum is a great way to see living history.

You begin to grasp the cost of the war as you enter the museum. The entrance is a glass floor walkway over a field of 9,000 poppies. Altogether the small red flowers represent the nine million who perished during the war.

I was impressed with all of the exhibits, but probably the most unique is the French Renault FT17 tank which was recently acquired by the museum. It has its original camouflage paint and a gaping hole in the side made by a German shell. Probably what surprised me is how small the tank was, compared to modern units. Yet the tank was just one of the many deadly innovations of the war.

Yes, I enjoyed the airplanes, which were suspended from the ceiling. Again, I came away amazed by how far technology has come in less than a century.

There are educational videos that give you the background leading up to the war. Europe was heavily armed at the time and nationalism was rampant. All it took was a small spark to ignite a raging inferno and that happened in the summer of 1914 with the assassination of an Archduke Ferdinand by Serbian terrorists. Within a week, all of the major powers in Europe were at war.

At the time, there was a popular notion about the nobility of war, but that was soon shattered as a generation of European youths perished on the battlefields.

The museum gives visitors a view of the human suffering both of soldiers and civilians. This includes a variety of displays showing just how awful conditions were for the millions who served in the war. There is an excellent look at what trench life was like and a huge simulation of a crater made by a shell.

The museum includes a high tech inter-active area that further explains tactics and equipment. I might add that one of the real surprises to me was how small the uniforms displayed seemed to be. It is very obvious that we've gotten a lot bigger over the generations.

The displays are divided into a European section and another area displaying the United States' entry into the war. In case you have forgotten, the United States joined the Allies in April 1917, and the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918. In that relatively short period of time, more than 150,000 Americans perished on the battlefields of France. It touched every community in the United States and ended America's period of isolationism and thrust us onto the world stage. One of the displays points out that the Germans weren't concerned about us joining the war and felt that the United States would have a tough time raising an army. Even in those days, our national will and character was misjudged.

If you visit the museum, a "must do" is a trip to the top of the memorial tower which is a major part of the Kansas City skyline. It provides a panoramic view of downtown Kansas City from a vantage point of more than 200 feet. The vast bulk of the trip up is by elevator, however there are a few steps to walk to reach the very top.

The Liberty Memorial was opened on Nov. 11, 1926, with a crowd of about 200,000 present. It was funded through private donations raised within a few months and remains the only World War I memorial in the United States. By the end of the 20th century, the memorial needed major renovations which were completed and the facility was again open to the public in 2002.

Area residents showed their support of the Liberty Memorial when they donated funds to keep the eternal flame burning for the coming year.

Combo tickets which include the tower are priced at $10 for adults; $8 for senior citizens and $5 for children ages six to 11. Museum-only tickets are $8, $7 and $4. Tower-only tickets are $4 and $3. The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. In my opinion, plan at least two hours for the visit.

Yes, I would recommend the museum as a great day trip for persons of all ages. Unfortunately, World War I is a "forgotten" war. However, we must never forget the sacrifices of those who served in that long-ago war. A visit to the museum should be a must for all Americans.

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