- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Looking at the crumbling base of America's largest World War I memorial two years ago, it was hard to imagine the thousands of spectators who had filled its lawn in 1921 as generals from across Europe and the United States dedicated the monument.
As World War I receded into the history books, so did interest and care for the 217-foot Liberty Memorial. By 1994, the massive tower was so damaged from neglect it had to be closed. Then, two years ago, the city began a renovation.
Yesterday, the memorial, scrubbed clean and accompanied by a museum of war relics, reopened again to fanfare and rededication speeches attended by representatives of Belgium, France, Italy, Britain and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers much like the gathering of Allied generals in 1921.
"Everybody was touched by the war," said museum curator Doran Cart. Thousands of people were drawn to the monument's first dedication by "unbridled patriotism, because they knew the importance of this," he said.
The Liberty Memorial went from glorious, including its grand opening in 1926 attended by President Calvin Coolidge, to crumbling by the 1990s.
Soot and cigarette smoke stained the murals in the museum's halls and decades of freezes and thaws caused the tower base to begin to crumble. Sections of tile on the floor were missing and some of the limestone was chipped or broken, said Greg Schultz, one of the project's architects.
During its restoration, Mr. Schultz said, restorers found the Indiana quarry that had supplied the original limestone and ordered new stone from there.
Historians watching over the project ensured the renovated memorial retained the original's look, Mr. Schultz said. Four stone urns, each about seven feet high, were remade because the originals were cracked. New stone wheelchair ramps and a reflecting pool also were added at the tower's base.
The memorial's museum, housed in two buildings, will eventually have about 300 items on display from the hundreds of thousands in its collection, Mr. Cart said. Work, as well as fund raising, continues on a $30 million project to expand the museum into a much larger space beneath the tower. The project was paid for mostly by a special city sales tax and private funds.
The goal of the museum is to let the people tell the story, Mr. Cart said. Throughout its rooms are quotations from generals and the soldiers in the trenches.
For 106-year-old Paul Sunderland, the memorial is piece of his history.
Mr. Sunderland made seven trips across the German submarine-infested waters of the Atlantic Ocean during World War I as his cruiser escorted supply ships to France, dropping depth-charges on suspected U-boats.
"We wouldn't know whether they were effective or not," he said recently at his home. "We always hightailed it away from the area so we wouldn't be involved in it ourselves."
Mr. Sunderland, one of only about 3,000 World War I veterans still alive in the United States, was pleased with the rededication.
While the monument was closed, the museum opened a small exhibition at remodeled Union Station across the street that was based on the Red Cross canteen that had operated there. The exhibition, which remains open, includes photos and objects related to the service of 767,000 soldiers who traveled through the station on their way to or from a war still not forgotten.


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