While we were staying near Independence we drove one day into Kansas City to visit The National WWI Museum and Memorial, the world’s most comprehensive WWI collection. The museum was amazing!
On the top of the Memorial are two Assyrian Sphinxes. One, named Memory, faces east toward the battlefields of France, shielding its eyes from the horrors of war. The other Sphinx is named Future and faces west, shielding its eyes from an unknown future. Around the top of the Tower are carved Guardian Spirits of Honor, Courage, Patriotism and Sacrifice. We began our visit by taking an elevator to the top of Liberty Memorial, a 217 foot tower completed in 1926 with views of Kansas City.
Sixty-five million people served in the Great War (later referred to as World War One), nine million died and the war involved over thirty-six countries around the world.
On the outside wall of the museum is the Great Frieze, one of the largest sculptures of its kind in the world. Dedicated in 1935, it is 148 feet by 18 feet and represents the progression of humankind from war to peace.
The current museum was expanded in 2006 and designated a National Historic Landmark. To enter the museum you walk on a glass bridge over a symbolic red poppy field, a symbol of the war because they grew profusely on the European fields of war.
These 9,000 Poppies Each Represent 1,000 Soldier Lost
Inside are two main galleries, 1914-1917 and 1917-1919. The amount of information presented through pictures and exhibits was overwhelming. Each year 500,000 people visit this museum.
One of the best known symbols of WWI was trench warfare. Both sides dug deep trenches and by the end of 1914 there was a network of over 400 miles of trenches across Belgium and France. By 1917 there were 35,000 miles of trenches across the Western Front. Poet John Masefield who served in the British Army called it “the long grave already dug”. Replicas of trenches were located throughout the museum.
President Woodrow Wilson signed the declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917. Millions were inducted, given basic combat training and by June 1917, U.S. troops had arrived in France. The army was small and poorly equipped with uniforms the same as those used in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Equipment was scarce so in some cases they had to train with wooden guns and rifles. For many, it was their first time in the military.
Americans across the country answered the call to help by rationing food, buying war bonds or stamps, worked longer hours and enlisted. Industries switched to producing weapons, ammunition and uniforms. The American Red Cross auctioned wool from sheep grazing on the White House Lawn, raising $100,000. The wool was used by Americans to knit socks and sweaters for the troops. Within a year, America had a military force of four million men and women.
Bill’s Grandfather Robert Tucker was a dispatcher motorcycle rider on a motorcycle like this for General MacArthur, 42nd Division, Rainbow Division.
20,000 1917 Harley-Davidson Motorcycles were sent Over There!
By November 11, 1918 fighting ended on the Western Front and Germany signed an armistice and began to withdraw its forces. The Treaty of Versailles to end the war was drafted in January by the leaders of the United States, England and France. In June, Germany signed it but protested the harsh conditions.
At the end of the year the U.S. Congress rejected both the Treaty and the recently formed League of Nations. The United States later signed its own treaty with Germany and never joined the League of Nations. The League of Nations was replaced 26 years later after World War II by the United Nations.
What else happened during WWI:
- Herbert Hoover announced the United States sent $1.4 billion worth of food to the Allies in 1917.
- Wartime Prohibition began with the Food Production Bill, making the U.S. completely “dry” until demobilization was completed.
- President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act which required all men between the ages of 21 to 30 to register for the draft. It was later extended to men 18 to 45. On the first day, over 9.2 million men registered at their local draft boards. Only 252,294 men failed to report.
- June 1917, Congress enacts the Espionage Act allowing the government to censor mail and making it a crime to aid enemy nations or interfere with the draft. On July 20th, the first American draftees are chosen by lottery.
- U.S. Post Office began airmail service and issued the first airmail stamps.
- “Over There”, a patriotic song written by George M. Cohan was recorded by Enrico Caruso.
- The first Choctaw Code Talkers, in which Indian languages was used as a substitute for code, occurred during WWI. They translated field telephone calls, radio messages and field orders. The code was never broken by the German intelligence. This led to a greater use of Navajo and other languages as codes by U.S. forces in WWII.
- March 31, 1918 U.S. begins daylight savings time by Congressional Act to save daylight.
- The American Legion was formed in 1919 as well as the Women’s Overseas Service League was formed to aid returning WWI veterans. Congress authorized disability compensation and vocational rehabilitation.
- “I am back from the front and believe me!!…I have just come out of one of the worst battles and the most deciding battle of the war. The American soldiers are the most gallant, brave, witty and stubborn fighters in the world”. Corporal John Lewis Barkley, 4th Infantry, 3rd Division in a letter home, November, 1918
After touring the museum we were famished and made the short drive to Kansas City, Kansas to have dinner at Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue. Bill had ribs and I had beef brisket. Both really, really good. Located in a gas station, the long line attested to their reputation. A newspaper clipping on the wall named them one of the thirteen best places to eat before you die (see #13).
Kansas City Missouri Facts:
- Population 460,000
- Has more than 200 fountains, giving it the nickname “The City of Fountains”; more fountains are here than almost anywhere else except Rome. In the 1800’s the fountains were used as water troughs for horses.
- Locals say Kansas City has more barbecue restaurants per capita than any city in the country, earning it another nickname, “Barbecue Capital of the World”.
- During the 1800’s Kansas City was the last stop for travelers to get provisions as they headed west.
- During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Kansas City was known as “The Paris of the Plains” because of the many jazz clubs, gambling halls and disregard of Prohibition.
- Across from the museum was Union Station, built in 1914 and formerly a train station but now a science museum. We read that more than 79,000 trains passed through the terminal in 1917 and half of all GIs deployed during World War Two passed through this Union Station.
Next stop: Topeka, Kansas