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May 26, 2014

Kansas City pauses on Memorial Day to honor veterans at Liberty Memorial

Thousands of people came to the monument over the Memorial Day weekend to honor those who served, especially those who gave their lives for their country. On Monday morning, ceremony gave way to families and relatives visiting the Walk of Honor, strolling the grounds or touring the National World War I Museum.

Three generations of the Henderson family came to Liberty Memorial on Monday to honor Cole Y. Henderson’s service in World War I and join the thousands of others remembering Memorial Day.

Henderson’s memorial brick was among those in the Liberty Memorial Walk of Honor, and his son Bill Henderson, 83, a Korean War veteran, was proud to tell his dad’s story of storming Vauquois Hill in the Meuse-Argonne campaign in the fall of 1918.

It was the final push that led to Germany’s surrender, and America’s biggest battle of the Great War.

“This is the drive that ended the war; it broke the Hindenburg Line,” Henderson said with the expertise honed from repeated tellings. “The hill was well fortified by the German army. Before they could start the campaign they had to take that hill.

“The French thought it would take 72 hours. It took them 45 minutes.”

Gretchen Engstrom, 36, Henderson’s daughter, was among the 14 family members who came to to honor our nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

“It’s made my dad proud to be in the armed services and to be a Marine,” she said. “We heard those stories about our grandfather every day, and we’ve come to respect what he did for us.”

Flowers lay scattered on other commemorative bricks on the Memorial Walk. Henderson had purchased the largest, a 16-by-16 inch paver, for a $1,000 donation. “It was worth it to me,” Henderson said. Others had donated $200 for a 4-by-8 brick, $400 for an 8-by-8. They all were testimonials to those who had fought in our country’s wars or served during peacetime.

Earlier Monday, a ceremony on the terrace beneath the memorial’s tower drew almost 1,000 people, said Thomas Butch, the chairman of the board of the National World I Museum. Kansas City Mayor Sly James urged the audience to be sensitive to the needs of veterans. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II spoke about progress to officially desginate the Liberty Memorial as national World War I museum and memorial.

Butch said the museum has had good attendance over the holiday weekend, averaging more than 1,300 visitors daily.

“I think it’s noteworthy on a holiday that’s become synonymous with the advent of summer and a big shopping day that so many people decided to honor the real meaning of Memorial Day and decided to be here today,” Butch said.

It was a hazy, balmy day, warm enough for some people to dangle their feet in the fountain in front of the museum entrance but not oppressive. Several dozen people lined up to go to the top of the memorial’s tower, families pushed strollers, and older kids played on the terrace while young couples enjoyed the panoramic view of the downtown skyline beyond the wall.

Orris Hoff, 91, of Pleasant Hill walked up the ramp from the museum with his wife, Lorene, and sister Juanita Grady of Iberia, Mo. Hoff served in World War II aboard a Navy patrol cutter based in New York, searching for German submarines off the East Coast. It may not be official, but Hoff was positive his ship sank five subs.

“I feel like a brother to any serviceman,” Hoff said.

Lorene Hoff described Memorial Day as “wonderful.”

“When you think what they went through, we should hold them up for recognition,” she said.

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com.

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