National World War I Museum and Memorial holds Veterans Day ceremony

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) – Army veteran George Norton spent 22 years in service to the United States, traveling many times around the world. Coming from a military family, Norton grew up as the son of an army officer and the grandson and nephew of other members of the military.

“For me, it was a sense of my responsibility as a citizen,” Norton, who entered active duty in June 1971 and retired Oct. 1, 1993, told KCTV5. “It was a function of my citizenship to serve the nation, to serve something bigger than me. It was a family tradition.”

Norton grew up on the move due to his father’s postings and continued to be a nomad during his time in the military. He said he originally planned to leave the military after his required six years of service, but continued to work for more than two decades because he loved what he did. His stint in the military took him to Colorado and South Carolina before heading overseas to northern Italy and Germany, where he was when the Berlin Wall fell.

“I was 22 years old and in charge of a 44-man rifle platoon and their equipment,” Norton said. “But it was the relationship and the people I served with and some of those relationships last until today. There are people I can call and visit and it’s like picking up where we left off. It was the camaraderie, the challenge of the job, and the people I worked with that drove me to do it.

George Norton, a 22-year veteran of the United States Army, now serves as a volunteer at...
George Norton, a 22-year veteran of the United States Army, now volunteers at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.(KCTV5)

Now the 73-year-old Parkville resident spends his time volunteering at the National World War I Memorial and Museum, where a Veterans Day ceremony was held in the building’s auditorium on Friday. The ceremony featured the American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City and remarks from Kansas City Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas with veterans from every branch of the military in attendance.

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was United States Air Force Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson. Johnson, a distinguished graduate of the US Air Force Academy in 1981, earned her pilot’s wings in 1984 and became a lieutenant general in August 2013 before retiring in 2017.

“What an incredible institution to honor,” Johnson said as she spoke about the importance of valuing service, regardless of one’s branch or military contribution. “We serve in different ways and sometimes it’s hard to explain because in our brains or in the movies we can understand explosions and guns, good guys and bad guys, but in our modern complex craft of weapons , it’s difficult.”

Veterans Day weekend festivities will continue at the National First World War Museum and Memorial throughout the weekend. On Friday afternoon, a craft poppy-making station was available near the donor wall. All weekend World War I research stations including databases and the Museum and Memorial Collections Online Database will allow visitors to learn about the impact of war on their families at through archives and photographs.

Visitors can also write letters to active duty service members on special WWI-themed stationery. Letters can be written to service members that visitors know or they can be left unaddressed and sent to the A Million Thanks charity.

When Norton retired, he worked with Kansas Public Radio and established a relationship with the museum, where he volunteered in 2018. As a volunteer, Norton said he enjoyed Kansas City as home to the largest country’s World War I museum.

“It’s the only museum in the United States dedicated solely to the memory and history of World War I, and it’s in Kansas City,” Norton said. “The fact that it’s a gem, it’s a place of destination. But it also calls to remember the experience that this country and the people who fought for this country had during the First World War and all the challenges that came with it.

Towards the end of the ceremony, President and CEO of the National First World War Museum and Memorial, Dr. Matthew Naylor, said the museum was in the midst of a major gallery update that should be unveiled around Memorial Day.

“It is important to remember this because the First World War is the genesis of the second and is the genesis of many of the problems that we still have today in the world. If we don’t know this story, we are doomed to repeat it. It is therefore important for me to help people understand what this museum has to offer.

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