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Kansas City Tapped for WWI Centennial Commission

Members of the 107th Infantry, 27th Division from New York, advance across "No Man's Land" in their attack along the River Somme in northern France during World War I.
Members of the 107th Infantry, 27th Division from New York, advance across "No Man's Land" in their attack along the River Somme in northern France during World War I.

Planning for the U.S. observance of the centennial of World War I will be based in Kansas City.

A bill creating a centennial commission was approved by both the U.S. Senate and House and on Wednesday was awaiting President Barack Obama's signature.

The development follows years of legislative maneuvering, and the bill was amended to remove language that would have designated the Liberty Memorial as the official "National World War I Museum and Memorial."

But a Liberty Memorial spokeswoman said officials are pleased that the commission will be established in time to mark the 1914-18 conflict that the United States entered in 1917.

The amended bill passed the Senate on Dec. 21 by unanimous consent and it passed the House on Monday on a vote of 401 to 5.

"With this legislation, which reflects the original bill that I first introduced in 2008, we have honored the memory of our veterans and ensured the upcoming centennial will be appropriately and auspiciously remembered," U.S. Rep Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, said in a statement.

The centennial commission will have 12 members, one of whom is to be appointed by the president of the Liberty Memorial Association. That is the nonprofit organization that operates the publicly owned National World War I Museum and monument under contract with the city of Kansas City. Another member will be appointed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, based in Kansas City.

The commission's initial meeting will be at the Liberty Memorial, and it will meet in Kansas City at least once a year.

The panel's mission is to "plan, develop and execute programs, projects and activities" to commemorate the centennial of the war. It will coordinate those activities throughout the U.S. and is expected to work with various centennial efforts in Europe.

"The events of 1914 to 1918 profoundly shaped world history and forever changed America's role on the world stage," Mary Davidson Cohen, interim president of the Liberty Memorial, said in a statement Wednesday. "We are delighted that this bill will soon be law and look forward to working with the centennial commission. We hope to inspire citizens throughout the nation to learn more about the Great War and discover ways they can honor the past."

Officials in Kansas City had hoped to also have the Liberty Memorial officially declared the national memorial to the war. It has already been designated as the national museum. But there was a competing effort to establish a national memorial in Washington.

A compromise that would have given both memorials the designation passed the House in December. But a new memorial on the National Mall faced opposition in the Senate and from the National Park Service. That prompted Sen. Claire McCaskill to strike a deal, amending the bill to include just the centennial commission. McCaskill said work will continue toward establishing the Liberty Memorial as the national memorial to the war, but getting the centennial commission up and running was the immediate priority.

"The Liberty Memorial in Kansas City is the perfect location to headquarter this important work," McCaskill said in a statement Wednesday.

The memorial and museum have the largest collection of World War I materials in the country. The monument was built in the 1920s and the museum opened to acclaim in 2006.

The Liberty Memorial is already working on plans to commemorate the war. A conference with representatives from around the world is scheduled for March 22-24 in Kansas City. The centennial commission members will have been selected by then.

Residents of Kansas City are entitled to two free admission tickets to the museum and tower to be used in January or February. Residents must show a photo ID and a utility bill with a Kansas City address.

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