UPDATE: US senators want KC's WWI memorial to be official

Thursday, February 3, 2011 | 7:11 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Backers of a towering obelisk that opened in 1926 with President Calvin Coolidge on hand are trying to make it the nation's official World War I memorial, just as an adjacent Kansas City building earned the distinction as the nation's official World War I museum seven years ago.

Missouri's two U.S. senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, are among the sponsors of a measure seeking to apply the designation to the 217-foot-tall cylinder.

The title is mainly symbolic because it wouldn't bring any additional funding, but the Senate bill would create a 24-member commission based in Kansas City to coordinate a national commemoration of the World War I centennial in 2014.

The bill announced this week has been nearly two years in the works because of a flap with a Washington, D.C. World War I memorial that also was pushing to be designated as the nation's memorial. In a recently fashioned compromise, the Kansas City memorial would be dedicated as the "National World War I Museum and Memorial," while the Washington memorial would be dubbed the "District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial."

McCaskill said she hopes the measure makes it through Congress in short time.

"Over the last century, the Liberty Memorial has been a national treasure honoring the sacrifice of World War I's heroic veterans," she said. "This legislation would mean finally getting the national recognition the site deserves. Unfortunately, as is too often the case in Washington, it took longer than we would have liked to reach a compromise that everyone can agree to, but I think this highlights the value of not giving up."

The site for the Liberty Memorial was dedicated in November 1921, when the five supreme Allied commanders spoke to a crowd of more than 100,000 people, museum officials said. The obelisk officially opened in 1926 when Coolidge spoke in front of 150,000 people assembled there.

Besides McCaskill and Blunt, other Senate sponsors are West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, Virginia Democrat Jim Webb and South Dakota Republican John Thune.

Denise Rendina, a spokeswoman for the World War I memorial and museum, said the official designation will help raise name recognition and credibility of the Kansas City site.

"When someone thinks of America and World War I, we want them to think of Kansas City," she said. "We want to be the center of study and commemoration and honoring and the collection and all of those things. Making us the national memorial adds to that."

Blunt, who has been pushing for national designation since he was a member of the House, said he is unwavering in his support for the memorial.

"This important legislation will help ensure that we pay tribute to the brave WWI veterans who served our nation with honor, and I'm committed to ensuring that both the Kansas City Liberty Memorial and the WWI museum receive the national recognition that they deserve," he said.

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