Molly M. Wood: Thinking about Remembrance of Past Wars

Roundup: Talking About History

[Molly M. Wood is Associate Professor of History and Department Chair at Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH, where she teaches U.S. history, U.S. foreign relations history and women's history.]

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and even though I have not lived there for many years, I still visit regularly. I often think that my decision to become a historian stems in part from the stories of my family history told to me by grandparents and other relatives. I learned from my grandmother, for example, that her brother, my great-uncle Joseph Steinbrecher, served in France in the Great War. He survived the war, but died long before I was born. From the Library of Virginia I accessed his Selective Service records, and I visited his gravesite in Holy Cross Cemetery. Someone mentioned to me in passing something about the local World War I Memorial in Richmond, a local landmark called “The Carillon,” a 240 foot bell tower located in the popular Byrd Park, site of summer concerts and public festivals.

Anyone who lives in Richmond knows the Carillon as a landmark, but how many know it was dedicated in 1932 as a memorial to Virginians who served in the war? I didn’t.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, the Virginia General Assembly created a “Virginia War History Commission” to collect information about the participation of Virginians in the war, and to take up the issue of erecting a war memorial.

Meanwhile, citizens of Kansas City, Missouri formed the Liberty Memorial Association to build a memorial to honor those who had served and died in the Great War. More than 100,000 people, including Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France and Commander of the American Expeditionary Force, and native Missourian, General John J. Pershing, attended the 1921 dedication of the Memorial site. More than 135,000 attended the dedication of the memorial itself, delivered in 1935 by President Calvin Coolidge.

By 1994, however, the Liberty Memorial had deteriorated so badly that it was closed. But in 1998, local citizens renewed their support for the memorial by passing a temporary sales tax to pay for restoration of the building, and for adding a Museum to house all the World War I documents, memorabilia and artifacts that had been collected by the Memorial Association since 1921. In 2004, Congress designated the Liberty Museum as the “official” World War I Museum in the U.S....

How will we remember, and memorialize, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? In 2009, Hinterland Travel, a British travel company, sponsored four tours to Iraq, the first since October 2003. At least five more tours are already planned for 2010.

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Kathy Schoeppner - 4/2/2010

If you'd like a comprehensive historical documentary about the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, there is one available. I produced this video with the help of the City of Kansas City and the Liberty Memorial Association.

You can contact me at

or go to this link:;s=dvd&qid=1270181456&sr=8-2