April 6 will mark 100 years since the United States cast aside isolationism and entered World War I — and it was announced Tuesday that the national observance will be in Kansas City.
The World War I Centennial Commission on Tuesday announced that the event will be held at the National World War I Museum and Memorial at Liberty Memorial, which was erected in a burst of Kansas City postwar patriotism.
President Donald Trump will be invited to the commemoration along with congressional leaders, military leaders, veterans organizations and foreign heads of state. Complementary events will be held around the country.
“The April 6 ceremony in Kansas City is an important element of the national conversation about World War I,” Dan Dayton, executive director of the centennial commission, said in an announcement. “Why should we care? Because we are all products of World War I. The entire country was involved — everyone has a story. The commission’s goal is to inspire you to find your personal story and connection.”
Many Americans were happy to stay out of it when hostilities began in 1914 between the Central Powers and the Allies in Europe. President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 on the slogan “he kept us out of war.” But unrestricted submarine warfare that sank American merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean, and other German affronts, helped turn the U.S. mood.
On April 2, 1917, Wilson went before Congress to ask for war against Germany and the Central Powers. Four days later it was declared.
“The U.S. was a nation of immigrants and there were a lot of conflicted views about the entry into the war,” Matthew Naylor, museum president and member of the centennial commission, said Tuesday. “They went to fight for peace and the values that are so important to us.”
Fresh American troops, under the leadership of Missourian Gen. John J. Pershing on the side of France and Britain, provided the tipping point to end the stalemate. The war would be over by Nov. 11, 1918 — Armistice Day. The Allies won.
America would never be the same. It was a great power on the world stage and would stay there.
The Liberty Memorial opened in 1926 and is designated a National Historic Landmark. An expansive museum and research center to display and house the nation’s largest collection of World War I material opened in 2006. In 2014 Congress designated it the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
“The people of Kansas City, out of honor of those who served and in a spirit of patriotism, conceived of and built the memorial some 90 years ago and now to be the focus of the national commemorative ceremony is an honor for us all, and it’s a fitting tribute to the vision of our forebears,” Naylor said.
The ceremony April 6 will be outside, weather permitting, on a stage to be erected on the east side of the Liberty Memorial mall. It will feature guests reading selections from speeches, journalism, literature and poetry of the time about the U.S. decision to enter the war. It will also include flyovers by U.S. and French military aircraft.
The National World War I Museum and Memorial is planning new exhibitions timed for the centennial commemoration. An outdoor exhibit on the memorial deck will consist of large panels juxtaposing photographs of World War I battlefields now with images from the museum’s collection of what they looked like during the conflict.
Another exhibit on the lower level near the research center will consist of dozens of drawings by French schoolchildren 100 years ago depicting the relationship between the U.S. and France.
An installation in Exhibit Hall atop the deck will look at the revolutions of 1917, including the one that toppled the Russian Czar Nicholas II.
The April 6 ceremony will launch an 18-month commemoration of the period of the U.S. involvement in World War I. More information can be found at ww1cc.org/events