Photo provided by Bruce N. Meyer
November 11 is Veterans Day and to celebrate banks will close, furniture stores will offer sales and a handful of Americans might even fly the red, white and blue.
However, will you be among those who pause at 11 minutes after 11 a.m., facing the east to remember the reason this national holiday was created in the first place?
Visitors to the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City will do just that, honoring that moment in time when the armistice was signed in Paris ending the most bloody conflict the world had ever seen, the one called "the war to end all wars."
2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and more than ever, this national museum located in Missouri is a destination for those who seek a better understanding of why it started and better yet, why it didn't stop there - why there was another world war just a generation later, and why many conflicts today can be traced to that fateful treaty signed in Paris.
The first national monument and museum outside of Washington, D.C. opened in December 2006 in Kansas City at the base of the Liberty Memorial, a 217-foot tall obelisk and National Historic Site that honors those two million Americans who fought in WWI. The museum is on General John Pershing Boulevard, named for the Missouri native who was the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe.
Crossing into the museum over a field of 9,000 red poppies, each one representing 1,000 people who died in WWI, is the last glimpse of color or brightness visitors experience as they become surrounded by the story of black, gray, brown and mud that became this wars palette.
The stage is set in the orientation film, which explains the period of transition in which European nations were growing and evolving. Modern prosperity of the early 20th century was considered as great a factor in the explosion of World War I as was the assassin's bullet that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary on June 28, 1914. Within days, 36 countries were embroiled in a battle that continued for more than four years.
Among the nearly 52,000 items brought to life through the harsh realities of early 20th century warfare are a Bavarian 15-centimeter howitzer, a French troop-transport boxcar, a 1917 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a rare German Pour le Merite medal.
Check out the French-made Renault FT-17, the kind that George Patton used in the battle of St. Mihiel. Be sure to walk around behind the tank and get a good look at the big hole created by a German shell.
Pause for a moment while looking at the gas masks, considering how hot and uncomfortable, but necessary they were. Ypres, Belgium in 1916, you'll learn, is the first time chemical weapons of mass destruction were unleashed on human beings.
But the museum is not just about looking at things - it's about experiencing and understanding this war. The misery was at its worst in the trenches, nearly 25,000 miles of them created a maze along the 450 miles of the Western Front. When you blow up all of the buildings, the trees and any natural cover, leaving a no-man's land filled with barbed wire and mud, the only protection possible is to dig a trench. That's why a shovel was more important to a soldier in WWI than a rifle.
A recreated trench weaves its way around the museums exhibit area. Poke your head in one end and you recognize right away that the Germans were encamped for the long haul. Their trenches are engineering marvels, reinforced with concrete and wooden planks.
The other end of the trench demonstrates conditions for Allied soldiers, muddy, narrow little troughs held together with sticks and debris recovered from the battlefield. Troops ate, slept, fought and died in these disease-ridden channels that were shared with rats, lice and human waste.
"When I visited the Holocaust Museum, I had a physical reaction. I was physically ill, and I want people to have the same experience after visiting here to know how difficult war is and what our people died for," said Carl DiCapo, one of the museum's primary fundraisers and supporters.
Unfortunately, the peace treaty that was signed on November 11 was not the end of all wars. That's why, as nations continue to kill each other for complex, simple or non-existent reasons, Veterans Day should be recognized with a visit to the National World War I Museum in Kansas City.
Have you been to the World War I Museum in Kansas City? What did you think?