The Liberty Memorial

Article excerpt

The morning of May 25, 2002, started off cold and rainy in Kansas City, Mo. Fortunately, the clouds and rain began to disappear shortly after nine o-- clock and there was a change for the better. The day would turn out as planned, with a ceremony that would be a milestone in the history of the city and a tribute to American patriotism.

The three honored guests were most appreciative of the break in the weather. After all, none of them wished to endure being outside any longer than necessary in bad weather. They were all veterans of World War I, which had ended almost 84 years earlier. The oldest was Paul Sunderland, age 106, who served in the Navy. Next came Fred Robb, age 104, a former Marine. The youngest World War I veteran present was Fred's brother Jacob, 103, who served in France as an artilleryman.

The occasion was the rededication of Kansas City's monument to the First World War, the Liberty Memorial. Present on that day was a crowd of spectators that was estimated to be approximately 25,000. They listened to a group of distinguished speakers, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers, the governor of Missouri, the mayor of Kansas City, members of Congress from Missouri and Kansas, state and municipal officials and foreign dignitaries. A Navy band provided musical support for the ceremony and the U.S. Air Force provided a fly-by with a B-1 bomber and F-16s, followed by a flight of vintage planes from the Great War. The formal ceremonies concluded with a pass in review of the horse-mounted color guard from Fort Riley, Kan. After the ceremonies had ended, the afternoon in the park where the Memorial is located was filled with spectators enjoying concerts and visiting the many military displays on hand. That evening, Gen. Myers returned to host a swearing-in ceremony in the park, which was followed by another short concert and a very large fireworks display. The final act of the day was the ceremonial lighting of the 230-foot tower in the center of the Liberty Memorial. With widespread print, radio and television coverage, the event took on a national significance, as well it should.

The Liberty Memorial is the nation's only congressionally recognized World War I monument. It is a very large structure located across from Union Station on a dominating hill overlooking downtown Kansas City. Visitors can take an elevator ride up the tower and enjoy a spectacular view of the city, or they can visit Memory Hall with its outstanding murals and recently installed displays on the history of the Great War. Just across from Memory Hall is Exhibition Hall, which now contains exhibits and artifacts from the war plus an excellent video narrated by Walter Cronkite on the 1914-1918 period. Below the deck of the monument, on which the two buildings and the tower sit, work has begun on a 60,000 square foot area for a world class museum, an auditorium, several classrooms, a library, a restaurant, gift shop and storage for museum archives. In total, the project will cost approximately $90 million.

The Liberty Memorial was the creation of a number of leading citizens of Kansas City in the months following the November 11, 1918 Armistice of World War I. Early in 1919, these civic leaders came together and decided to honor those Americans who had sacrificed their lives in the "war to end all wars." Within two months, they had collected more than $2.5 million dollars for the effort, a large sum for those times, and began planning their tribute. By 1921, they had progressed far enough along to have a dedication ceremony for the newly named Liberty Memorial. More than 100,000 people gathered on the slope of the hill just south of Union Station for the ceremony, and the keynote address was given by Vice President Calvin Coolidge. …