John Folsom (left), president and founder of Wounded Warriors Family Support, shakes hands with Sly James, a former Marine, after the Memorial Day ceremony. The car behind them, a 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350, is traveling through 48 states to raise funds for combat veterans and their families. The Kansas City mayor signed the car. Veterans were honored during a Memorial Day ceremony at the National World War I Museum Monday, May 30, 2016.
By Diane Stafford
The living honored the dead — and the living — on Monday at the Liberty Memorial.
On a day designed to recognize those who gave their lives, “don’t forget those who are still alive,” urged Kansas City Mayor Sly James. “There are many who need our help and service.”
James and other dignitaries spoke to a crowd of about 800 seated on a sunny deck in front of Memory Hall at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
In America, “We have a lot of things to focus on and fix,” acknowledged retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But Myers said the combination of courage, sacrifice and optimism — plus Americans’ strong philanthropic bent — can help.
That’s the kind of mission that fueled Col. John Folsom 12 years ago to found Wounded Warriors Family Support, a nonprofit designed to help veterans and their families with life after combat injuries.
Folsom, then stationed in Europe and dealing with servicemen and women who had been injured in Iraq, started a collection.
“The Army did a good job fixing up the bones,” Folsom said, standing near a donation point on the Liberty Memorial Drive. “We helped out with morale items.”
Folsom, who now lives in Omaha, turned that small “morale” effort into a campaign that aims to raise about $1 million a year to help wounded veterans adapt vehicles to their use.
Sandy Bentch of Lee’s Summit volunteered Monday to help donors place their signatures on a car that will tour the United States to publicize the fundraising campaign.
“It’s the family, too, that we help,” Bentch said. “It’s not just the wounded warrior. The needs go on.”
The Memorial Day event saluted all veterans, but the venue gave special tribute to those who served in World War I, the war that raged from 1914 to 1918. U.S. troops fought in the last two years, helping bring victory for their European allies.
A year after the war ended, Kansas Citians and a new Liberty Memorial Association needed only 10 days to raise $2.5 million — or about $45 million in today’s dollars — said Thomas Butch, chairman of the memorial’s board of trustees.
The edifice was dedicated in 1921 before a crowd estimated at 100,000, including the Allied commanders from the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and Belgium.
The memorial and the museum have undergone a renaissance, Butch said, and the Trip Advisor rating service recently ranked the museum among the nation’s top 25 out of a field of 35,000 U.S. museums.
The museum recently has received $12 million in a “Call to Duty” campaign that will finance a new 4,000-square-foot exhibit gallery within the museum and add to its educational programs.
James, who served as a Marine, noted the outpouring of support for single-day events, such as the annual Heart of America Stand Down to benefit homeless veterans, held Friday, and the Memorial Day event, but prodded, “What are we doing the other 362 days of the year?”
“Something more than a passing holiday” is needed to honor those who wore the uniform, he said. “Simply remember, every day is a day to honor the veterans of this country.”
The day was about more than solemn words, though. Matthew Naylor, CEO of the museum and memorial, invited the crowd to head down to the museum’s cafe to enjoy wartime fare: a chipped beef special.