French fighter jets — the Patrouille de France — will roar through the Kansas City sky on Thursday, April 6, trailing red, white and blue smoke on their first visit to America in more than three decades.
It’s a dashing gesture of thanks to the United States for its entry into World War I one century ago.
The Patrouille de France is the precision aerobatic demonstration team of the French Air Force. The eight-jet team originated in 1931, and is called the world’s oldest. It last came to the United States in 1986, when it took part in festivities marking the centenary of the Statue of Liberty, a gift to America from France.
The team is touring the country, but its commemoration here with the Liberty Memorial in the background will draw the attention of the world.
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Italy is sending its ambassador. Belgium is sending its defense minister. A director of the Juilliard School has produced a video narrated by actor Kevin Costner. There will be color guards, music and readings of literature, journalism and poetry from the world of 1917. C-SPAN will be here.
A B-2 bomber flyover from Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base will testify to modern American might.
But the centennial program will not be a worship of war. Just the opposite, it’s entitled “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace.”
“It will really be a very fine experience,” said Matthew Naylor, president and CEO of the National World War I Museum and Memorial and a member of the centennial commission.
The national observance is here because Kansas City geared up after the war to build the monument that is now recognized by Congress and is a national historic landmark as well as home to the internationally acclaimed museum about the Great War.
“It’s so meaningful that we are welcoming thousands from around the globe,” said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City. “The people of Kansas City raised the necessary funds in 10 short days to build this magnificent memorial.”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, headquartered in Kansas City, contributed $100,000 for the commemoration event.
“Kansas City is the VFW’s hometown,” said Debra Anderson, VFW quartermaster general and a member of the centennial commission. “We are pleased to welcome the world to our hometown.”
The United States World War I Centennial Commission conceived it as a “heads of state” event and invited foreign leaders from Europe to Australia, said commission member Monique Seefried.
Although there had been no RSVP from the White House as of late last week, it was announced that President Donald Trump will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in Florida on Thursday and Friday. The commemoration here, however, will be attended by foreign ambassadors and defense ministers as well as U.S. military officials and elected officials.
Security plans were made as if Trump and other other world leaders were coming.
“There is no plan B,” said Keli O’Neill Wenzel of O’Neill Marketing & Event Management.
Fencing will go up around the Liberty Memorial grounds early this week. All roads in the vicinity will be closed beginning well before dawn Thursday.
In addition to invited guests, about 3,000 tickets were set aside for the public. They needed to be reserved online. Visitors will have to enter at Main Street and Pershing Road, be screened for security and be in place by 9 a.m. before the main program begins at 11 a.m.
For schoolchildren everywhere and others who can’t attend, the event will be streamed live from a link at the centennial commission’s website. In addition, C-Span 3 will broadcast the program next Sunday at 9 a.m. Central time.
The European war began in 1914 but the United States did not enter the conflict until 1917 after Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and continued to sink American merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean. The war on the Western Front, and America’s participation, ended on Nov. 11, 1918. The United States lost more than 116,000 people in the war.
The war had other consequences.
“Here in America it propelled the women’s right to vote, advanced civil rights and introduced us to the world politically and economically,” said Robert J. Dalessandro, chairman of the centennial commission.
The commemoration in Kansas City is the beginning of an 18-month observance of American involvement in World War I. More information can be found at ww1cc.org
World War I centennial observance
▪ The main ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 6, at the Liberty Memorial.
▪ Visitors must have reserved tickets; tickets were limited to 3,000; go to ww1cc.org/april6
▪ Visitors must be on the grounds by 9 a.m.
▪ There are no seats; blankets and cushions are allowed.
▪ Visitors must enter the perimeter at Main Street and Pershing Road.
▪ Valid photo ID and ticket required.
▪ ATA buses will shuttle visitors from perimeter entrance to security screening.
▪ Streets surrounding the Liberty Memorial will be closed beginning at 3 a.m.
▪ Visitors are encouraged to walk or take public transport.
▪ Food, drink, weapons, backpacks and purses not allowed.
▪ The ceremony will be live-streamed. Find a link at worldwar1centennial.org
▪ The National World War I Museum will be closed Wednesday and Thursday.