This week brings the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, and Kansas City is the setting for many commemorative events, chiefly a large ceremony on Thursday.
The war started in the summer of 1914 after what Matt Naylor, president and CEO of the National World War One Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, called “that momentous unraveling that shaped the last 100 years.”
America stayed out of the war for almost three years, but President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war on April 2, 1917, and Congress passed that declaration four days later.
So the major event this week is the ceremony, “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace,” Thursday morning at the World War One Museum at the Liberty Memorial. Dignitaries including the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the ministers of defense from France and Belgium, the governors of Missouri and Kansas, and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II are expected to be on hand.
The approximately 3,000 tickets for the public became available online late last week and were quickly snapped up.
The ceremony will be livestreamed. There’s a link on the website of the United States World War One Centennial Commission, http://www.worldwar1centennial.org/. The prelude to the event starts at 9 a.m., and the ceremony is from 10:45 to 12:30. The event is set to go rain or shine.
The event includes flyovers by an American B-2 bomber and by the Patrouille de France as well as a cannon salute by Harry Truman’s World War I unit, Battery D, First Battalion, 129th Field Artillery. Much of the recorded dialogue during the event is narrated by the actor Kevin Costner.
The Liberty Memorial is dedicated to those who served in the war. Congressman Cleaver points out that the people of Kansas City raised the money to build it in just 10 days. The groundbreaking was in November 1921, and top allied military leaders – from Britain, Belgium, France and Italy as well as Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing of the United States – were on hand.
“I think that we can’t underestimate the significance of this moment for the United States and for the world,” Naylor said of this week’s events. “The commemoration has gripped the imagination of people in every continent.”
Monique Brouillet Seefried, a member of the World War I Centennial Commission, said America has largely forgotten the war but Europe has not. She points out that America fought for freedom from autocratic government and that “American soldiers gave their lives fighting for values we still respect as highly today.”
Many upcoming events
The Missouri State Museum in Jefferson City on Thursday kicks off a new exhibit, “Here at Home: Missouri in the Great War.”
Part of that ceremony at 2 p.m. is to include the unveiling of a banner honoring Charles Denver Barger, a World War I Medal of Honor recipient who lived in Grain Valley at the time of his death and who is buried in Blue Springs Cemetery. The banner is presented by the Silver Star Families of America.
The museum is on the first floor of the State Capitol in downtown Jefferson City. The event is free and described as kid friendly.
The World War One Museum has a large permanent exhibit and several temporary ones:
• “Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: The Doughboys 1917-1918” is a collection of photo displayed outdoors on the grounds of the museum and runs through Aug. 20.
• “Vive l’Amerique: French Children Welcome Their American Ally” is from a collection of essays and drawings that a French teacher had his students do in April 1917. It runs through Aug. 20.
• “Posters as Munitions” explores how governments and others used posters on the home front to encourage men to enlist, urge people to buy war bonds and even promote a Blue Cross fund for horses wounded at the front. It runs through February 2018
The Kansas City Public Library is offering screenings of four movies related to the war. All are at 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays at the Central Library, 14 W. Tenth St. in downtown Kansas City. The movies are:
• “Sergeant York,” this Saturday. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of Alvin York, one of the most decorated soldiers of the war. The 1941 movie also was nominated for best picture.
• “Legends of the Fall, April 15. This 1994 movie stars Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn. Two brothers survive the war but, once home, end up in a romantic rivalry. (Rated R.)
• “Paths of Glory,” April 22. Soldiers are arbitrarily put up for court martial after an attack goes badly awry. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas, released in 1957.
• War Horse,” April 29. Directed by Steven Spielberg and nominated for best picture in the Academy Awards, it stars Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and Niels Arestrup and tells the story of a horse sold to the British military for the war, and the devotion of the horse’s first owner.