KANSAS CITY (WDAF) – Kansas City is home to the country’s official National WWI Museum and Memorial, but there are many untold stories behind the people working at the popular attraction.
The city is proud of the museum and has made it a focal point during the Royals World Series celebrations and Chiefs Super Bowl victory parades. Most recently, it was showcased during the 2023 NFL Draft, where more than 54 million people saw this landmark on TV.
But the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City is more than just a beautiful landmark. It started as the “Liberty Memorial,” breaking ground in 1921 and officially opening its doors in 1926.
The memorial was also founded by Kansas City residents, an aspect that is critical to its history.
These days, the daily operations are mostly run by volunteers. Last year, more than 530 volunteers contributed more than 57,000 hours of their time. What’s even more amazing is that many of them have served our country, just like Army Veteran Paul Frank, a first lieutenant who served from 1969 to 1972.
Army Veteran Charlie Van Way served during Vietnam on the medical side. He still practices medicine part-time on top of his volunteer work. The stories told here also have a part in his family’s history.
“My father went to West Point, just after the war. He was in the class of 1924, started in 1920,” Van Way said. “My Uncle Charlie, Charles Craig, actually served over there.”
Army Lieutenant Colonel Nikki Dean retired from Fort Leavenworth in January. Before that, she had numerous deployments from Germany to Korea as well as both Iraq and Afghanistan occasionally.
Now, she’s getting her master’s degree in museum studies while interning at the museum and memorial’s offices.
“While I was preparing to transition and retire from the U.S. Army, to do so at the National WWI Museum and Memorial is an incredibly wonderful opportunity that I was afforded by the leadership here,” Dean said.
Even though the veterans of WWI are long gone, these veterans work to keep the legacy going by learning about those who served our country before them and sharing their stories with each visitor who walks in the door. They’re also helping visitors understand WWI’s enduring impact and make connections to the present day.
The museum is always taking new volunteers, and while you don’t have to be a veteran to help, the connections among those who have served are unique.