The National WWI Museum
by Peter Suciu
While the centennial of the First World War has passed the significance of the conflict has not. The United State’s entry into the First World War in April of 1917 helped change the tide for the Allies and ensured the defeat of Germany and the Central Powers. While no one American city can claim to have played a greater role in the war, Kansas City was chosen to be the site of the Liberty Memorial, which was dedicated in 1921.
That event was attended by military leaders of the five main Allied nations: Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium, Admiral Earl Beatty of Great Britain, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, and General John Pershing of the United States. It was the first time these five men were ever together in one place. These men included
The construction of the Liberty Memorial was completed just five years later, and it officially opened on November 11, 1926, eight years after the guns fell silent. That could have been the end of the story for America’s monument to the sacrifices paid by those who fought in what was then known as the “Great War.” While the impressive 217-foot tall structure lights the night sky, it was long felt that more should be done to remember the veterans of the war. Over the years came calls for a National World War I museum, while the Memorial itself faced the ravages of time.
In 2004, the dream of a Great War museum actually became a reality thanks to the passage of a $20 million bond initiative to fund the construction of a new museum. President George W. Bush signed into law a bill that designated the Liberty Memorial as the National World War I Museum, which it was officially designated by the 108th Congress. In 2006 site was deemed a National Historic Landmark and the museum opened to the public.
Today, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial serves as a reminder of the sacrifice paid by that generation that went “Over There.” It is divided into multiple galleries including the first that covers the years 1914-1917 when it was global conflict, albeit one that didn’t involve the United States; and within this section of the museum are a multitude of displays, along with recreations of Western Front trench lines, and exhibits highlighting the war in the air and at sea.
The 1917-1919 gallery pays special attention to the American efforts, and housed within it are many uniforms, small arms and even a French-built American Renault FT tank among other artifacts that the museum has gathered over the years.
The National World War I Museum in Kansas City features an impressive collection of small arms from the era, and displays how it began very much the first modern war, and highlights how the firearms of the day progressed from bolt-action rifles to machine guns to what could arguably be the predecessor of assault weapons and other close compact weapons.
Finally the museum makes it clear that although it was thought of at the time as the war to end all wars, sadly instead it was just the First World War, and would redraw the map, resulting in many conflict that continue to this day.