Lessons of history, near at hand and always valuable

The Examiner

There was pleasant gathering Friday night on the Independence Square. People brought lawn chairs and bottled water. It was hot and breezy but not bad for July. The Spirit of Independence Band played songs with deep American roots.   

And there was a talk by the director of the World War I Museum and Memorial, Matthew Naylor, a good spokesman for the museum and one always ready and able to discuss how that war just more than a century ago continues to shape our world. 

A thank-you goes to the Independence Square Association for sponsoring these Summer Vibes events. 

The evening was also, in a sense, a reminder about counting blessings, including acknowledging some of the amazing resources at hand or within ready reach of the Kansas City area. 

For instance, try this sometime: 

• Visit the newly renovated and reopened Truman Library in Independence. It has always been one of the area's crown jewels, and now it shines more brightly, telling the story of the 33rd president, the nation he led and the people we once were. Take your time, and take it all in. 

• Visit the World War I Museum, and learn the causes, costs and enduring consequences of that devasting war. Go to the top of Liberty Memorial for an amazing view of Kansas City. 

• Take a day trip to Topeka and visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. It tells the story of the momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision to desegregate the nation's public schools. 

• Down the road farther is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas, renovated a couple of years ago and open again with pandemic precautions.  

• One more – and it's a bit of a hike – is the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. It tells the story of the exploration and exploitation of space, from Nazi Germany's buzz bombs that terrorized Britain in World War II, to the race to the moon, to the space shuttle. 

Now you've put a few miles on the car, spent a few bucks and rolled past a fair bit of scenery. What do you have? Look at it this way: Those museums, together, tell the story of America stepping into the role of world leader and shaping world events for decades, of America reaching for the stars, of America reaching to live out its stated civic creed. It's the story of roughly 75 years of challenge, struggle and – on the whole – progress. 

We're not saying you could or should cram this into some sort of ambitious three-day weekend. That might be a bit much. But these stories are at our fingertips, not just in, let's say, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. – wonderful as those museums are. These stories still tell us who we were and challenge us to think of how we might yet rise to the challenges of our times.