KCUR News
9:41 am
Sun March 13, 2011

KC Celebrates Lost Generation

Kansas City, Mo. – America entered the war with a promise: As the famous WWI song said, "We won't be back till it's over, over there." Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired General Richard Myers said that was remarkably optimistic. "They went over thinking they could change the world, change the course of that war, and in fact they did!", said Myers speaking at the Liberty Memorial.

And they knew what they were getting into. In one battle, The Somme, 88,000 men were killed, for every single mile of ground won. "So, that was courage. They went, despite the fact that this was the bloodiest fighting this earth had ever seen. Sacrifice!", said Myers.

Veteran Frank Buckles brushed it off, on a visit to Kansas City in 2008. Buckles died at 110, but he enlisted under-age. "When you're 16 years old, you're not afraid of anything."

Buckles, who died February 27th, may have been the last living veteran of World War I, anywhere. It's hard to say for sure, because some of countries harder hit in the war lost a lot of their records. Graham Norton, a Colonel in the British Army, says ceremonies like the one at Liberty Memorial last weekend are happening all over the world. "We're in exactly the same situation in the UK," said Norton. "Our last survivor died late last year, a chap called Harry Patch was 110 when he died, and Frank Buckles outlived him by about 2 months."

Two skinny teenagers in period uniforms marched in the ceremony Saturday, reminding everyone there of just how young the soldiers in the old black and white pictures, fighting from trenches with machine guns, high explosives and poison gas were. Gunnar Naughton, who is from Manhattan, Ks. turned 18 the day Frank Buckles died. "I feel like I owe myself to them, because they died for my freedom", said Naughton.

After the war, people from lots of countries felt the same way. The war turned America into a world leader. It also exposed millions of Americans, many of whom had never strayed far from home, to more cosmopolitan culture. Despite all this, there is no one nationally-recognized memorial honoring U.S. veterans of the First World War. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver wants Congress to give that designation to Liberty Memorial, in Kansas City. The National World War Museum is already here. "And that means that this would be The World War I Monument of the planet," said Cleaver. Cleaver says he expects the bill paving the way for the designation, and allowing planning for the WWI centennial events to begin, to pass this year.