Saturday, April 8, 2017

Centennial Commemoration

I had the distinct honor of attending the Centennial Commemoration of the US entry into World War One. The event took place on April 6, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  I feel the need to write about this experience, for a couple of reasons. First, I want to mention a few of the people I met that day and express how grateful I was to share this very special event with them. Secondly, I want my family to know how grateful I am to them for sending me out to Kansas City as an early 50th Birthday gift. They know my passion for this history, and having my kids miss three days of school would not have been practical at this time of the year. Thank you Mariann, Joshua, and Jacob for this gift.

Curtis V. Smith
I arrived early at the event to make sure I got a good seat. Score! One of the best seats in the house. Another gentleman arrived early for the same reason. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Curtis V. Smith, a professor at the Kansas City Kansas Community College. He was wearing a medal that his grandfather was awarded in the Italian Army during World War I. Curtis was an absolute delight to spend time with during the event. We were both present to honor our grandfathers who had survived the horrors of this war and we were both very much in tune with why it was important for us to be there for the commemoration.

International Guests
While Curtis and I were chatting, we were approached by Chris Isleib, Director of Public Affairs for the Centennial Commission. The first words out of his mouth were, “Here’s a couple of historians.” Chris certainly knows his audience and was a gracious in welcoming us to the event and genuinely interested in learning about or WWI ancestors.

The event was first class in every respect. I enjoyed “people watching” as the honored guests and dignitaries arrived to take their seats. I’ve never been to an event where so many notable representatives from foreign countries, elected officials, or high-level military officers were gathered.   
The colors were presented by men in period uniforms and the 1st Infantry Division Band played the National Anthem. Wotko Long, a Muscogee Creek spiritual leader and Vietnam Veteran, provided a beautiful prayer and song spoken in his native language.  Later that day, I had the fortune to talk with Mr. Wotko at lunch and thank him for his song.

Great-grandaughter to Sgt. Alvin York
Some of the honored guests were also the descendants of World War One veterans, including Helen Patton, the granddaughter of George Patton, who led a tank squadron during WWI. Also present were the grandson and great-granddaughter of Sergeant Alvin York, Medal of Honor recipient and one of the most recognizable names WWI history.

The program included a vast array of elected officials and dignitaries that welcomed the guests to the ceremony.  The main program centered on a multimedia presentation that walked us through the events of the war as various speakers read from the text written during the day, accompanied by an amazing group of talented musicians. Actors took on the roles of historic figures of the time, reading the script to help tell the story of the Great War.  Highlights also included a flyover by the French Air Force Patrouille de France, as well as a flyover by a B2 stealth bomber. Cannons were fired by the artillery regiment from which Harry Truman was a member during the war, the 129th Field Artillery Regiment.

Purple Hearts Reunited
Purple Hearts Reunited founder Zac Fike presented a Purple Heart to the great nephew of Leo George Rauf who was killed in battle during WWI. This non-profit is on a mission to return 100 Purple Hearts that have been lost or stolen back to the veterans or military families. I met Zac and thanked him for the honorable work of his organization. An impressive guy. This is research I can certainly get behind.

Pershing and Roosevelt
I met David Wayne Shuey, aka “General Pershing” and I felt like I traveled back in time when “Teddy Roosevelt” came up, in character, and gave Pershing a great big bear hug! Those guys were great.

I was about to leave the event, but filled with my grandfather’s spirit, I asked one of the event coordinators about my chances of getting to hear the colloquium to be held later in the day.  In true fashion, the hosts were quite gracious and upgraded my status from “Guest” to “Special Guest.” In extending me a ticket to the lectures they said, “Here, please enjoy the luncheon as well.” Wow, grandpap pulled some strings.

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I spotted an open seat at a table and sat down next to Chris Bell, a Vietnam Veteran and a member of VFW Post 5789. We chatted and I discovered that Chris was celebrating an anniversary of his own that month. Fifty-years ago, April 1967, Chris was sent to Vietnam.  I enjoyed listening to his stories.

Ambassador Dirk Wouters on the left
After lunch, I mingled with the crowd in the hall and was privileged to meet Dirk Wouters, the Ambassador of Belgium. I shared with him a story about being contacted by Patrick Lemount, a Belgium author, who wrote about those buried in Flanders Field American cemetery in Belgium.  We talked about Nicola Elmo from Trafford and how Lemount helped to unite distant cousins. He was pleased that I shared this story with him and we had this picture taken.

While exploring the museum I had a chance meeting with Dr. Reka Szermerkenyi, the Ambassador of Hungary, and Derd Matkovic, the Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia. This was surreal. Think about this for a moment. The two countries they represented, a hundred years ago, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia, the two countries at the epicenter of this war.  I asked if I could take their picture next to a historic document. In the display case to the right is the actual cease-fire telegram that was transmitted from the Eiffel tower on November 11, 1918, sent by Marshall Foch to General Pershing. This message ended the hostilities. Dr. Szermerkenyi read the entire telegram aloud.

Derd Matkovic and Reka Szermerkenyi
November 11, 1918 cease-fire telegram
I was given one final tour of the new exhibit that just opened in the museum that day. The museum volunteers were so hospitable and gracious as they showed me around the premises. They are a dedicated and passionate group of people interested in telling the story of this war. I was utterly impressed by these people. 

Finally, I have to mention two people from the National Archives. With plans to travel to Kansas City, I wanted to do some research at the Archives. Pamela Anderson arranged for the material I wanted to explore, and Wade Popp made sure I had everything I needed while I was at their facility. They were truly gracious hosts at NARA.

I wore a photo of my grandfather during the event but felt as though I represented all of the families who are connected to the 313th Machine Gun Battalion. I was blessed to attend the event, and I never forgot why I was there. I am eternally grateful for the Sacrifice so many gave for Liberty and Peace. 

World War I MMemorial dedicated in 1921

Private Andrew A. Capets
More photos from the event:
Andrew Capets and David Wayne Shuey aka General Pershing
The stage is set for the colloquium. 
1st Division presenting the colors.
Robert M. Speer, Acting Secretary of the Army
Flyover by the French Air Force Patrouille de France

Vickers Machine Gun. Type used by the 313th Machine Gun Battalion

Retreat? Hell, we just got here!

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