* "Great War" sparked in 1914 by Archduke's assassination
* Tug of war between Kansas City and Washington D.C.
* The two cities could agree to share the honor
By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 5 Back in 1926,
nobody balked when President Calvin Coolidge dedicated Kansas
City's towering Liberty Memorial as the U.S. national memorial
to World War One.
But as the 100th anniversary of the beginning of "the Great
War" approaches in 2014, a tussle has broken out between Kansas
City and Washington, D.C. over which city should be the site of
the nation's "official" World War One memorial.
In 2004, Congress voted to designate the Kansas City
memorial as the official museum, but late last year support
emerged for having the memorial on the National Mall in the
A bill designating both locations as national memorials has
also stalled, delaying fundraising for the U.S. observation of
the approaching centennial.
World War One started in 1914 when the Austro-Hungarian
empire declared war on Serbia following the assassination of
Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The war drew all the great
powers into battle and the U.S. entered the conflict in 1917 on
the side of allies fighting Germany.
An armistice ending the war was signed on November 11, 1918.
U.S. losses in the war, while not approaching the millions
of dead in Europe, were 116,516 casualties, including combat and
non-combat deaths. After the war, there was a groundswell in
Kansas City to honor those who served in the conflict.
"It's very frustrating for us," said Brian Alexander,
president and chief executive of Kansas City's National World
War I Museum, which adjoins the Liberty Memorial.
"Our goal is to be recognized as the national memorial
because to a large extent we have been the defacto national
memorial since the 1920s," Alexander said.
At stake for Kansas City is prestige, recognition and
national distinction as well as a powerful draw for generations
of visitors. Nearly $5 million is being spent to renovate the
Liberty Memorial in time for the anniversary.
The stone, cylindrical memorial rises 217 feet atop a hill
overlooking Kansas City, and has an observation deck on top.
The museum itself, which houses the largest American
collection of artifacts from the war, is an argument in favor of
keeping Kansas City as the site for a national memorial.
"It's all right here," Alexander said.
The National Mall in Washington is home to memorials to the
other major American wars, which supporters argue makes it a
logical choice for the World War One memorial.
"Kansas City has an impressive memorial but, in all due
respect, it doesn't get 25 million visitors a year that the Mall
gets," said Edwin Fountain, a prominent historic preservationist
and Washington lawyer who has backed Washington's claim.
The Mall already has a memorial to the war, Fountain said,
the D.C. War Memorial dedicated in 1931 to honor more than
26,000 district residents who served. The names of 499 who died
are inscribed on the monument.
U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, who
sponsored a bill to designate the memorial in his home town,
reluctantly signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill designating
both locations as home to national memorials.
But at a hearing on the bill last month, Washington's
non-voting representative in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton,
testified against giving the D.C. War Memorial national
designation. That would be yet another instance, she said, of
overlooking the district - which is already denied statehood and
voting representation in Congress.
Norton said broadening the D.C. War Memorial to represent
everybody who served in the war would diminish the sacrifice of
the 499 Washington residents it honors.
But Cleaver said time is running short to form a centennial
commission to raise money for events marking the war's
anniversary. That should have started a long time ago, he said.
Support persists for giving Washington a piece of the
national memorial distinction, which led to yet another idea:
Turn Pershing Park near the White House into the site of a
co-national memorial alongside Kansas City's.
Pershing Park has a statue of General George John J.
Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in the
war, as well as paintings depicting major World War One battles.
Norton said the broad tribute to all World War One veterans
makes Pershing Park the proper place to recognize everyone who
served in the war.
Fountain gave grudging support to the idea of twin
memorials, though he said Pershing Park is not ideal because it
is off the National Mall. "If it's Pershing or nothing, I'd go
with Pershing," he said.
Alexander also said he would be willing for Kansas City to
share the distinction with Pershing Park.
"Our concern is that we get acknowledged," Alexander said.
"Whether it is shared or not is not an issue."
Norton said she could support two national memorials, though
she is not pushing for enabling legislation. Nor yet is Cleaver,
who still prefers his original bill but said he could live with
adding Pershing Park in a dual designation.
"Some say this fight is over, I say they are wrong," Cleaver
said. "I will continue to work to see that Kansas City gets what
it so richly deserves."
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Andrew Stern, Greg
McCune and Todd Eastham)