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Pritzker Museum Donates $5 Million to support U.S. World War I Centennial Commission

By Kate Thayer
Chicago Tribune

A $5 million donation from a Chicago military museum will help a national effort to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War with a new memorial, education campaign and traveling exhibit.

The Pritzker Military Museum & Library, which announced the donation Friday, is the founding sponsor of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission — a group formed last year and charged with developing projects to mark the anniversary of the United States' involvement in the war in 1917.

Kenneth Clarke

Kenneth Clarke, president and CEO of the Pritzker museum and library, said remembering the war and those who served brings to light how applicable the history of World War I still is today.

"We believe the Great War is something everybody needs to know about. There are very real examples in today's geopolitical climate that make World War I very relevant today," he said, pointing to boundary conflicts in the Middle East, among other issues.

"As an institution dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and heritage of the Citizen Soldier, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library is proud to support the Centennial Commission in similarly preserving and sharing the history of World War I, so that we can learn lessons from the past to apply to the future," Jennifer Pritzker, museum and library founder and a retired colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard, said in a statement.

Helping pay for the commission's efforts also ensures Chicago will be in the spotlight in a national campaign, Clarke said.

"One thing this does also is establish the Pritzker museum and library as a regional center for World War I activities in Chicago, and makes sure Chicago plays a great role in commemorating this 100-year anniversary," he said.

The donation will kick-start a number of projects, including a coffee table book on war propaganda, a commemorative coin issued by the U.S. Mint, television shows and a traveling train exhibit, said Rob Dallessandro, commission chairman.

Plans for a national memorial in Washington, D.C., are also underway, Dallessandro said. All projects are slated to roll out in 2017, if not earlier.

Some educational materials have already gone out to schools across the country, where in many cases, it will be students' first time learning about World War I, he said.

"Our efforts in World War II eclipsed World War I," Dallessandro said. "And that's OK. It was such a big event in American history, it has taken over American consciousness." But, "all the things we live with today come directly out of World War I," he said, referring to current conflicts in the Middle East and breakthrough inventions like flight, the radio and advancements in medicine.

"The World War I generation are truly the first millennials. They bring America into a new century," he said. "If you talk to somebody (alive during) World War I, they would tell you that anything was possible. They take the nation from a frontier nation and take it into a modern superpower."

Honoring veterans is also part of the effort, Dallessandro said. "We don't have any veterans of World War I (still alive). But we want to honor those people. They don't have a voice anymore."

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