Naturally, Veterans Day and the surrounding days are some of the biggest annually for Kansas City's National World War I Museum and Memorial, as Nov. 11 marks the day the guns fell silent in Europe in 1918.
Last year was the centennial. This year, the museum welcomes the traveling exhibition “The Vietnam War: 1945-75” from the New-York Historical Society. Kansas City is the exhibit's final stop, and it debuts Friday and runs through May 31, 2020, the Sunday after Memorial Day
“We're certainly expecting a great, strong crowd,” said Matt Naylor, president of the WWI museum.
The museum started talking with the New York Society to find an opportunity to bring the exhibit to Kansas City, he said, and the timing worked great.
“We wanted to open it right around one of our major weekends,” he said.
The museum's purpose is to “remember, interpret and understand the war and its enduring impact, how the war influenced events decades later,” Naylor explained, and the Vietnam War has more connections to World War I than many might realize.
For one, nearly 100,000 Vietnamese citizens served in France during the war, for at the time their country was part of the colony known as French Indochina.
“The French were looking to all their colonies to support them,” Naylor said. “They borrowed funds at first, and then it became evident they would need workers and troops.”
About an equal number of workers and troops went to France. Most came back, but they had been changed.
“They had a different relationship with France,” Naylor said. “They've earned money, they've got new skills, they've learned about munitions, unionizing, mechanizing; soldiers learned new strategies like trench warfare.”
In essence, that started the push for independence movements. One young man who later renamed himself Ho Chi Minh tried unsuccessfully to secure an audience with leaders at the Paris talks to push for independence from France.
“The cat had been let out of the bag,” Naylor said. “It began the seeds of independence; equipped people to do that, and political leaders.”
In addition, several notable American leaders with some connection to Southeast Asia later in the following decades played roles and drew from experiences in World War I, including Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt and, of course, Captain Harry Truman.
Naylor said the fact so many major world conflicts and events have roots in some way back to World War I shows that “decisions that we make often have long-term consequences.”
“They certainly had a profound effect for many decades to come,” he said, “and in fact we continue to live out some of them today.”
Museum volunteers have had the chance to walk through the Vietnam exhibit, which is in the museum's new exhibit space Wylie Hall. Many of those volunteers were Vietnam-era veterans or citizens who came of age in that time period.
“It's been really quite moving for many of them,” Naylor said.
A busy weekend
Admission to the National World War I Museum and Memorial will be free Friday through Monday for military veterans and active-duty personnel, and general admission for the public is half-price. Other free events over the weekend at the museum include:
• World War I research stations: All day through the weekend at the Long Education Center. Find your connection to World War I with access to multiple databases such as Fold3.com, Ancestry.com, the Museum and Memorial’s online collections database, Veterans Legacy Memorial, the American Battlefield Monuments Commission and the National Archives. Learn how the Great War affected your family through records, photographs and much more.
• A Vietnam era Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” Helicopter is on display 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday on the rectangular drive. Guests are welcome to inspect the helicopter, take photos and even climb inside.
• WW1USA amateur radio station. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in the west lobby. The museum is teaming with area amateur radio operators to host special event station WW1USA. During this time, station operators will contact hundreds of other amateur radio operators across the world. Individuals are welcome to serve as a guest operator at any time, with all receiving a special amateur radio operator certificate.
• Hands-on history: 11 a.m. Saturday, near Sunderland Bridge inside the museum. A family-friendly program where kids of all ages are invited to handle Great War artifacts.
• Veterans Day ceremony: 10 a.m. Monday, in the Memorial Courtyard outside the museum. Featuring dignitaries such as Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, special musical performances and a keynote address from Pellom McDaniels III, a former Kansas City Chiefs player and current curator of the African American Collections at the Rose Library at Emory University.
• Walk of Honor Dedication Ceremony: 2 p.m. Monday, in Nichols Auditorium inside the museum. Nearly 100 new Walk of Honor granite bricks will be dedicated during a ceremony featuring a keynote address from retired Lt. Col. Paul Darling. The Walk of Honor is divided into three sections: bricks dedicated to those who served in World War I; bricks dedicated to veterans of any military service; and bricks that honor civilian friends, family or organizations. Walk of Honor bricks are dedicated twice each year during Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.