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Remember

You don’t have to travel far to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I.
BY BARBARA GIBBS OSTMANN

Upon entering the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., visitors cross a glass bridge to go from the lobby to the Main Gallery. Through the skylights, they catch a glimpse of the Liberty Memorial Tower. Below their feet is a field dotted with 9,000 red poppies, each one representing 1,000 combatant fatalities. That’s 9 million fatalities. It’s a realization that takes one’s breath away.

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Above: The approach to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. National World War Museum and Memorial

Below: The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Visit Flanders

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As the country prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering the First World War on April 6, 1917, it’s a fitting time to plan a visit to the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

A global story

While other World War I museums preserve the wartime histories of individual nations or regions, the Kansas City museum honors the memory of all who served from countries around the world. The museum exhibits put the war into global context and show how the war’s consequences affect the world today.

Mike Vietti is director of marketing, communications, and guest services at the museum. He explains that the goal of the museum is not only to show artifacts and preserve history, but also “to explain why we should care, why it’s important.”

Various displays organize the facts into easy-to-understand formats — timelines, maps, and charts — that enable the viewer to grasp the immensity of the war. One wall display summarizes the war by sheer numbers, while another wall is devoted to a map that strikingly shows how the entire world was involved.

“It was the first time in history that every inhabited continent participated in a war,” said Vietti. More than 65 million people from more than 30 countries served in the war, which began in 1914 in Europe. The war ended with the surrender of Germany on Nov. 11, 1918. The Treaty of Versailles was finalized on June 28, 1919.

In contrast to the global picture, poignant individual stories and artifacts bring the war down to the human level. In the museum main gallery, life-size re-creations of a wartime trench help the visitor comprehend the physical and emotional landscapes of the war.

Two movies help to further explain the war. “You can see alarming contemporary parallels,” said Dr. Matthew Naylor, president and CEO.

For those with the time and inclination to dig deeper, there are interactive study stations and reflection rooms. The Exhibit Hall, which dates to 1926, houses special exhibits. Ride the elevator and climb 45 steps to the top of the 217-foot tower for a 360-degree view of Kansas City from the observation deck.

Because there is so much to explore, admission tickets are good for two consecutive days.

Where poppies grow

In the devastation of the battlefields, poppies were one of the few things that would grow, and they often sprouted up around soldiers’ graves.

Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian physician, was working in the field medical station during the Second Battle of Ypres in May 1915. The day after the burial of his friend and fellow soldier Lt. Alexis Helmer, McCrae penned the words of the now-famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” The location is today known as the John McCrae Memorial Site at the Essex Farm Cemetery, near Ypres, a town in the Belgian province of West Flanders.

Legend has it that fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after a dissatisfied McCrae discarded it. It was first published in Punch, a London magazine, on Dec. 8, 1915. It became one of the most quoted poems of wartime, and led to the poppy becoming a worldwide symbol of remembrance.

In Flanders Fields

Although a trip to the museum in Kansas City is an enlightening and emotional experience, a trip to Flanders in Belgium will really awaken your senses to the deadly toll of war and the amazing resilience of the human spirit.

Flanders is a region in the southwestern part of the Low Countries. It is primarily the provinces of East and West Flanders in Belgium, plus parts of France and the Netherlands. During World War I, Flanders was the scene of prolonged and brutal trench warfare on the Western Front.

The medieval town of Ypres was at the heart of the battlefield, and by the end of the war, there was nothing left of the town but ruins and rubble.

Today, the picturesque town is totally rebuilt, with its magnificent Cloth Hall restored to its former glory and housing the In Flanders Fields Museum, which is a must for any visitor. Another must is the Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate, a moving tribute to fallen soldiers from dozens of countries. The Last Post has been sounded there at 8 p.m. every evening since 1928.

The countryside around Ypres still reveals signs of wartime. The dozens of war cemeteries and monuments bear silent witness to the 550,000 soldiers who perished in Flanders. The Flanders Field American Cemetery in Waregem is the only American World War I cemetery in Belgium.

Today, Ypres calls itself the City of Peace. Its rituals and remembrances are part of a history lesson the world needs to heed. Meanwhile, the poppies continue to blow, between the crosses, row on row.

Barbara Gibbs Ostmann is a contributor from Gerald, Mo.

March/April 2017 Issue

“In Flanders Fields”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
— John McCrae, 1915


BEFORE YOU GO

Contact the National World War I Museum and Memorial, located at the corner of Main Street and Memorial Drive in downtown Kansas City, at (816) 888-8100 or visit theworldwar.org for hours and admission fees.

The Raphael Hotel, a AAA Four Diamond property, makes an ideal base for a Kansas City visit. It’s located at 325 Ward Parkway just across the bridge from Country Club Plaza.

To visit Kansas City, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTik® Travel Planners, and TourBook® guides.

In Ypres, the Albion Hotel is comfortable and conveniently located. For suggested itineraries of battle sites and cemeteries, visit flandersfields1418.com. For general tourism information about the country, go to visitflanders.com or visitbelgium.com. Your AAA Travel professional can help you plan a trip to Belgium. AAA service offices.

 

 


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