This weekend I finally had the chance to visit the World War 1 Museum at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. What an amazing experience! My grandson Cody told me he was studying WWI in school this semester so I seized the opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for years.
The building is a magnificent structure of limestone and granite rising from a hill in Penn Valley Park; from the hilltop you can see a magnificent view of the Kansas City Skyline. Cast in the shadow of the 217 foot tall tower is the main building. The entrance is a daunting secure series of large brass doors, that give you the feeling you are entering an underground bunker.
Even on this frigid February day, the fountains and pools in front of the entrance were functioning and reflected the ominous figure of the Egyptian Revival structure. Perched atop the structure are the carved spirits of Courage, Honor, Patriotism and Sacrifice. Each facing the four winds undaunted and defiant of the tests of time.
Many generations have passed since WWI; a visit really brings to light the sacrifices made by so many to keep the world free. The displays are life-like; men in trenches huddled, muddy and scared. The movies tell the stories of a few of the tens of thousands who endured the hell of war. But the scene is politely cleaned up to prevent us from really feeling the anguish, pain and plight of the dough-boy. There is no blood, no screaming wounded, just pictures, equipment and armament.
The motion sensitive displays tell the story of each scenario as though you were watching a History Chanel documentary. The glass cases keep you from feeling the cold steel the drew so much blood and took so many lives.
The climate controlled environment shelters you from the vicious extremes of Africa in Summer and the Blistering cold of Russian Winters. You are left with a sort of comfort that it was them, those guys... so long ago! But the lessons are for life, the same elements that stirred nations to war in 1917 again stirred them to war in 1943. In both cases America was late to enter, and sat by waiting until we were forced into the war. Pacifist leaders, apathetic citizens and profit mongers waited until we had been viciously attacked to see the evil that was rising.
The war changed many things, while we think of Rosie the Riveter as a uniquely WWII thing, many women sprang into action and worked hard to make a difference in the war effort. There is so much to be learned from a visit to this historic landmark, so much to be remembered.
As you pass from the lobby to the museum you walk over a glass bridge, looking down on a wasteland of destruction, from which only poppies spring. The curators tell you this is representative of Flanders Fields, where in the Spring of 1915 Lt. Col John McCrae witnessed 17 days of hell; he watched his fellow soldiers die in bloody, brutal battles. In the vast barren field of destruction the only thing living was a sea of poppies waving in the wind.
He sat down in the back of an ambulance distraught over the death of his friend and penned the poem In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
While I enjoyed the displays of now ancient weaponry and canvas covered planes. I felt something was missing. I had been very eager to spring the story of Sgt. York on my young grandson; showing him the heroism and honor exhibited by this man of great faith and virtue. But as we neared the exit, I stated how disappointed I was at the lack of any mention of him.
Cody whirled around and took me back to a golden statue, an Oscar given to Gary Cooper for his depiction of the amazing story of a true American Hero. There the statue had a small picture of the man who risked his life, went against his own Quaker beliefs and fought so valiantly for his fellow man.
The disappointing plaque read that he was the most decorated hero of the first world war. Not much else was stated; granted Sgt. York was a plain man who did not seek fame, but his story is one that; at least I felt should have been more prominently displayed as an example of what one man can do to fend off evil.
My Grandfather served in the US Navy to fend off the Huns during World War One, this experience drew me that much closer to him and his legacy!
The lesson: Those who fail to understand history are condemned to repeat it! One man, like Sgt York or even a poet like Lt. Col. John McCrae can do something to change the course of history.