As World War One centennial nears, fight erupts over memorial

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Back in 1926, nobody balked when President Calvin Coolidge dedicated Kansas City's towering Liberty Memorial as the national memorial to the First World War.

But as the 100th anniversary of the beginning of "the Great War" approaches in 2014, a tussle has broken out between Kansas City and Washington, D.C. over which city should be the site of the nation's "official" World War One memorial.

In 2004, Congress voted to designate the Kansas City memorial as the official museum, but late last year support emerged for having the memorial on the National Mall in the nation's capital.

A bill designating both locations as national memorials has also stalled, delaying fundraising for the U.S. observation of the approaching centennial....

"It's very frustrating for us," said Brian Alexander, president and chief executive of Kansas City's National World War I Museum, which adjoins the Liberty Memorial.

"Our goal is to be recognized as the national memorial because to a large extent we have been the defacto national memorial since the 1920s," Alexander said.

At stake for Kansas City is prestige, recognition and national distinction as well as a powerful draw for generations of visitors. Nearly $5 million is being spent to spiff up the Liberty Memorial in time for the anniversary.

The stone, cylindrical memorial rises 217 feet atop a hill overlooking Kansas City, and has an observation deck on top.

An argument favoring Kansas City as the site for the national memorial is the museum, which houses the largest American collection of artifacts from the war.

"It's all right here," Alexander said....

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