The National World War I Museum and Memorial took Veterans Day as an opportunity to look to the past and the future.
Mayor Sly James, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II and Maj. Gen. Maria R. Gervais joined museum president and CEO Matthew Naylor to address an overflow crowd inside the museum. The group recognized the service of our nation’s veterans.
Naylor and Cleaver also unveiled the museum’s new entrance sign, which sets in stone — literally — its designation by Congress in 2014 as the nation’s official National World War I Museum and Memorial.
Cleaver in his remarks urged the audience to start using Veterans Day as something more than remembrance.
“Maybe what we ought to do is figure out how we can, in such a divided country, reach a point where we can treat each other in a manner that the people who died for our freedom can look down from the balcony of heaven and say, ‘OK, that’s what I died for,’ ” he said. “The question we should all ask is, ‘Am I worth dying for?’ ”
James, who served in the Marines, opened his remarks by wishing happy birthday to the Corps and relating his experiences as a new enlistee in 1971.
“One of the first things the Marine Corps taught us was when one of us fails, we all suffer,” he said. “And when we learned that lesson, guess what? We stopped failing.”
He also took the opportunity to sing the praises of the Veterans Community Project, the local service group that seeks to help Kansas City’s homeless veterans in a variety of ways, including building them small homes.
“A lot of our veterans are in the streets right now, here and in other cities,” he said. “If we really want to honor veterans, then we ought to live up to the things that they fought for.”
Grevais, the deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army combined arms center in Leavenworth, outlined some of the challenges for today’s soldiers.
“The last two decades of war have not been easy on our soldiers and veterans,” Gervais said. “Many have deployed numerous times, have spent way too many nights separated from their loved ones, missing the birth of their children, their baby’s first words — and steps, birthdays, graduations and anniversaries. Many veterans continue to fight to overcome the challenges associated with war. We must not fail them.”
Out with the old
Before the ceremony, museum officials unveiled the new limestone entrance sign on the south side of the museum, which now reads “National World War I Museum and Memorial.”
“It’s a great moment and a tribute to Kansas City,” Naylor said.
The limestones from the old entrance sign —which previously read “National World War I Museum” — were removed over a period of about six weeks this summer, and the new stone was laid in.
Before that, months of work went in to finding the appropriately shaded limestone from a quarry in Indiana. The dappled look of the wall meant the stone workers had to search different areas of the quarry to find a variety of colors. Then came the task of cutting, etching and inking and hauling it back to KC.
The result: A seamless new entryway that looks as though it’s always been there.
“My worry was that it wouldn’t be centered or they’d get a spelling wrong,” Naylor said. “We were so insistent that we find the stone that best matched because this is here for a long, long time.”