Reflections of the National WWI Museum at the Liberty Memorial
December 11, 2012
First up on my tour of Kansas City Attractions is the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial. Before I get into the details of my visit, I’d like to provide a little backstory.
Both of my grandfathers are veterans of WWII. My maternal grandfather passed away while my mother was still a young child. However, my paternal grandfather is still living today, so I have been able to hear many of his war stories first-hand.
Due to my grandfathers’ histories, I have always felt a strong tie to that era and wanted to learn all I could about it. Growing up, I loved looking at old yellowing photographs of them as teenagers proudly wearing their fatigues, or in their Sunday best, standing with their new brides before having to ship out to Basic Training.
As a result of this WWII era infatuation, I tried to learn all I could on the subject. However, I had never felt any particular interest in WWI, and all I really remembered from elementary and high school basically boiled down to the following:
- Some important Ferdinand guy was assassinated; it made all the other countries mad and they eventually went to war over it.
- The phrase "trench warfare."
- The DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) in my hometown would occasionally pass out handmade poppies on Veterans Day.
Yes, I realize this is an embarrassing summation of the actual events, but as I said, it never really interested me. So, that’s all that stuck.
As my family and I planned our visit to the WWI Museum at the Liberty Memorial, I was setting myself up to be seriously underwhelmed. It turns out, I could not have been more wrong.
Upon entering the museum, we crossed over a glass walkway with thousands of poppies springing up from the dirt floor below. A museum docent saw us marveling at them and came over and explained, "Each of the 9,000 poppies represent a thousand combatant deaths, a total of nine million.”* I was immediately struck by the gravity of what really occurred during this war I never thought twice about.
I felt so ignorant, peering down at the seemingly endless field of poppies beneath my feet. While I knew that WWI marked the first time in history that countries all over the world had engaged in battle, I never truly realized the scope of the damage or the staggering number of lives that were lost.
The rest of the museum proved to be even more moving. After watching a fantastic news reel video that more clearly explained the causes of the war (there was a lot more to it than the assassination of “that Ferdinand guy”), we were ushered into another sector of the museum filled with weapons and artifacts actually used during the war. Some were military issue, like canteens, rifles, helmets, bayonets, etc., while others were intensely personal mementos, like letters to sweethearts back home and photos of family members. It was haunting to read the captions underneath these hundreds of items and envision what the soldiers who possessed them must have gone through.
The museum also contained life sized replicas of the cold, narrow trenches in which brave young men lived, fought, and died. Audio recordings of actual conversations (gathered from soldiers’ journals) complete with the noise from exploding mortar fire, played overhead as you peered into the trenches through small windows. Experiencing on a small scale how terrible the trenches actually were has forever changed my recollection of the phrase "trench warfare."
All in all, this museum was an educational as well as emotional place to visit. It taught me not only about the war, but also those who fought in it. I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you think you have no interest in WWI. You may surprise yourself.
*quoted from the website: The World War
P. S. The photo is a reflection of the Liberty Memorial Tower on the glass walkway overlooking the poppy field.Tags: museums, local attractions