This morning marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the First World War, and the center of the commemorations is my adopted hometown, Kansas City, Missouri. After the war, Kansas City was the first community to build a memorial to her fallen sons– indeed the fallen sons of all communities thrust into the fight– and somehow, that memorial became a repository for artifacts sent from across the nation by soldiers, sailors, Marines… even a few airmen here & there. A fundraising drive in 1919 took in $2.5 million. (In today’s money, think thirty or forty million, depending on which elected official you talk to.)
In the space of ten days.
Because that’s what speed do.
Eventually, our city became the home of the National World War One Museum, and it is one of my favorite places to reflect on, at once, the horrors of war and the courage needed to face those horrors.
At this commemoration, we do not glorify combat– anyone who has seen it first hand will tell you that there is not a single positive thing about it. But we do honor the sacrifice and bravery of those men and women (yes, women bore the brunt of the battle, too) who put life on hold for a time– and in many cases, forever– to answer the call to duty. Today we set aside the reasons for this war, because each of those reasons is monumentally stupid. We set aside arguments about “justified” conflict. We simply pause to celebrate courage and remember sacrifice.
We also pause to remember that the war had raged for nearly three years before our entry, and our allies are represented today by the Patrouille de France, the French counterpart to the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds. (A nos alliés de l’Armée de l’Air de la France… vous êtes bienvenus ici.)
Also present: Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Australia, Italy, Canada, England… probably others that I’m just not aware of. Because we were all in it together, regardless of which side we were on. Sons of American mothers were forced to kill sons of German mothers, and vice versa. There is simply no glory in that.
But there is plenty in the willingness of those sons to fight for their country, whatever its flag.
Fortunately, the Museum had a live feed of the event on the internet, and saved it for posterity. Watch the ceremony here.
I am honored to have attended the ceremonies with Maj. James Hohensee, U.S. Army (JAG, Ret.), a valued friend and mentor.
Jim’s wife, Sally, got tickets to the event, and invited me to join them. That’s touching by any metric.