Kansas City's World War I Memorial Honors Veterans With Skydiving And Cars For Those In Need
Kansas City's National World War I Museum and Memorial Wednesday celebrated Veterans Day by honoring and giving back to those in the community who have served.
While the memorial’s celebration of Memorial Day in May was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, CEO and president Matthew Naylor said it was important to have Wednesday's events take place in person.
“People are chomping at the bit to come out. We’re so pleased that in a responsible way we’re able to gather,” Naylor said.
The day began with a “legacy jump,” as surviving service members of World War II and conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq skydived from a helicopter and landed on the memorial’s north lawn.
One of the veterans who jumped was U.S. Army Master Sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry. Although he made many jumps as an airborne in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petry lost his right arm in combat and said he was hesitant to skydive recreationally when he returned home.
Petry said he was motivated by a friend, who skydived despite losing both of his legs.
“It inspired me. I said, ‘Well if he can do it, I can do it.’ And I’ve just loved it ever since,” Petry said.
Today’s jump was especially meaningful to Petry, as he got to skydive alongside a 96-year-old World War II veteran.
“A World War II guy going out the door before you gives you the courage to make that leap. You can’t show your face if you didn’t jump after he did,” joked Petry, who lives in Washington state.
Wednesday was Petry’s first visit to the World War I Memorial, and he said he was impressed by the community’s support.
“It really gives us a sense of self-worth knowing the people that recognize our service are the folks that make our sacrifices worth it," Petry said. “They’re good Americans.”
Following the ceremony, the local organization Cars 4 Heroes gathered on the north lawn to donate 11 vehicles to veterans and family members living without one.
The organization relies on vehicle donations from the community, providing them at no cost to veterans and first responders who lack transportation.
Cars 4 Heroes founder Terry “Car Santa” Franz said the organization is his way to honor those who have served.
“I never stood in the jungle, I never stood in the desert, so this is my way of giving back to you,” Franz said.
One of the veterans who received a vehicle was Ryan Potts. He served from 2007 to 2015, including a 2012 tour in Iraq and Kuwait.
Upon returning home from service, Potts began suffering from depression and post traumatic stress disorder. At one point, he was homeless.
“It was a struggle to find a place back in society,” Potts said. “I had been in the Army since the first week after graduating high school, so I didn’t know who I was coming home.”
Potts says the birth of his children, as well as therapy and group sessions, helped put him on a path to recovery. But living without a car was a challenge.
Potts works as a mover, meaning he’s at different locations each day. He says a lack of transportation required him to plan out every single hour of his day, deciding whether he could take a bus or would have to walk.
“I can’t count the amount of hours and miles I’ve spent just walking to get back and forth from work, and that’s not even including getting to my daughters. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, it’s more than tough.”
Now that he has a car, Potts say he’s most looking forward to spending time with his children.
“They’re the most important thing in my life, I’m actually getting them as soon as I leave here,” Potts said. “We’re hopping in here and taking a ride.”
Potts was also enrolled in classes to receive a commercial driver’s license, and he says a car will allow him to finish them.
“With that, I’ll be able to have success and give my children a way better future than I could’ve ever had when I was younger,” Potts said.
In his closing remarks, Naylor said he hoped the day found resonance during a time of “overwhelming division and intolerance.”
“The virtues that sit above us in this tower serve as a lighthouse to call upon our better souls, reminding us to rise above rumor, bitterness, and distrust, and to serve one another,” Naylor said. “I hope, and I believe, that we have the resilience to weather the storm.”
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