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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Reichley: The Great War started 96 years ago today

  • Picking a subject for today's column was as easy as falling off a log.
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  • Picking a subject for today's column was as easy as falling off a log. The month and date are "exact" ones in U.S. military history, but the event was only 96 years ago instead of an even 100. That's close enough.
    On this date in 1917 President Woodrow Wilson called on Congress to declare war on Germany, which got American troops into the European fray quite late, according to the Allies who'd been fighting for three years.
    But I've not read or heard anywhere that the Allies told the Americans to stay out of their European fight, although The Great War, as it was initially called, was being fought all over the globe and at sea.
    Several things have happened recently regarding World War I, as The Great War was finally called, after being The War to End All Wars for a while.
    A few years ago the World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City was designated by Congress as the National World War I Museum. Politicians in Missouri and Kansas immediately joined forces to have it also designated as the seat of planning for activities that will occur all across the U.S. for the next four years.
    This was finally done in January when President Obama signed the bill Congress sent him. Although the Liberty Memorial CEO resigned last year and a new one has not been selected, or announced, the acting CEO wasted no time in getting the planning ball rolling.
    Two weekends ago representatives from across the U.S. and from several other countries, as far away as Australia, gathered at the Liberty Memorial for an initial planning session. No one who is not on the committee knows what recommendations were made, or who the decider is, but as soon as decisions are made volunteers will receive an email alerting us to what is being proposed.
    When I became a volunteer in 2006 there were about 75 of us. As of last week, there are now 307, so the word is getting out that the museum is fast becoming the place to be for those interested in promulgating the history of The Great War.
    An introductory movie gives a superb background of why the war began, and does it in just 12 minutes. Then, halfway through the main gallery visitors see a second movie, 15 minutes long, that explains why America entered the war when we did and why.
    When I am an interpreter (tour guide), I enjoy listening to comments from visitors after seeing the second movie such as "Gee, I never knew that's why we entered the war on the side of the Allies," and "Boy, we sure came close to entering on Germany's side."
    As to the whys, I'll not cover them here. If you aren't real sure, as almost all visitors are not, it is perhaps time for you to head to Kansas City for a museum experience of your life. And you can return later, as special centennial celebrations and events happen.
    Page 2 of 2 - At a volunteer meeting many months ago someone announced that, as part of its centennial contribution, Austria will send the car and uniform the Austrian archduke was wearing on that fateful day that began the conflagration, and the pistol that killed him and his wife.
    About 300 volunteers and a bunch of paid staff members are looking forward to that happening also. No dates have been announced, but readers will surely be aware of it well in advance.
    The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and a ticket is good for two consecutive days. There is plenty of free parking, and a fine cafeteria inside the building for those there at lunchtime.
    Not sure what more I can say about events 96 years ago that have led to today. And after your visit to the museum you can go to Laclede, Mo., and see Gen. Pershing's museum.
    John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.
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