October 1st, 2013
12:26 PM ET
11 months ago

Veterans break past World War II Memorial barricade

Update 1:45 p.m. ET: House GOP leadership sources tell CNN they plan to vote on a series of bills to fund the government, beginning Tuesday with three measures–spending for veterans, the District of Columbia and the Park Service.

Washington (CNN) – Busloads of World War II veterans, many in wheelchairs, broke past a barricade Tuesday morning to cross into the World War II Memorial, as onlookers applauded and a man playing the bagpipes led the way.

Moments earlier, a few Republican members of Congress had removed a section of the black gates that surrounded the site, allowing a line of veterans to roll past security officers, who willingly stood aside.

Veteran Donald Quinn of Pascagoula, Mississippi, said he was pleased with his visit to the memorial, despite the initial blockade.

"I'm surprised to see so many people here and so many important people, but I've enjoyed it," he said. "At first I didn't think I'd come, but I'm glad I did."

Photo by Laura Koran

Photo by Laura Koran

The National Park Service closed all of its parks, including national memorials, as a result of the federal government shutdown that went into effect at 12:01 a.m ET.

But a spokeswoman from the National Mall and Parks Service said efforts were no longer being made to hold anyone back.

"These are important visitors," Carol Johnson told reporters, adding that they're seeking guidance from the director's office on "where we go next."

"Obviously we did not want to do anything to mar the trip of these people," she said, saying the visitors came from Mississippi and Iowa. "They've come here specifically to see the memorial that was built for them."

Some Republican members of Congress and a Democratic senator were on site, blasting the federal government for fencing off the memorial. Outraged and baffled, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, crossed through an opening in the railing earlier in the morning–before the breach–and got on the phone to try and reach the secretary of the Department of Interior.

"I don't get it. I'm furious. I'm trying to get a hold of people," he said, standing on the other side of the barricade and looking around for help. "But I can't seem to get a hold of anybody."

Photo by Laura Koran/CNN

Photo by Laura Koran/CNN

Harkin faulted Republicans for what he called their "nonsense" legislative push that led to the shutdown.

"Obviously I can walk here," Harkin said, as he walked past the barrier. "Why can't I walk there?" he added, pointing at the memorial located not far away.

A few House Republicans were also at the memorial to disparage the government for closing off the landmark on a day that veterans were set to arrive.

Rep. Steven Palazzo, one of the congressmen who helped move the gates, argued the decision to close the memorial may have been more of a political ploy than a bureaucratic oversight. The Mississippi Republican said it makes no sense to close an open-air monument and compared it to prohibiting someone from touching a tree.

"All Americans should have access to the monuments, but if there's one group, it's our greatest generation, and this might be the last opportunity in their lifetime to visit their memorial," he said.

"We've got park service employees out here," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, before the gates were opened.  "Why wouldn't you have them here to allow the veterans in, instead of stand and keep them from coming in?"

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, wearing casual clothes, said she was out walking when she heard about the pile-up outside the memorial and decided to hustle over to the site.

"The last thing we should see in America is a barricade for World War II veterans to be prevented from coming to their memorial," Bachmann said.

She vowed she and colleagues will be there "today, tomorrow, the next day, however long it takes" to keep the memorial open.

"America is not shutting down," she said. "If we have anything to say about it, we're going to keep this open."

Photo by Laura Koran/CNN

All Honor Flight visits include a bagpipe processional. Photo by Laura Koran/CNN

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, called the moment heart-warming, if infuriating that intervention was necessary in the first place.

"We don't have guards around them at any other time," King said of the monuments in a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

He referred to the gating off of the memorial as "a completely spiteful act," by President Obama, comparing it to the White House canceling school tours in the aftermath of the automatic budget cuts of the sequester. "Perhaps the most bitter, spiteful act ever committed by a commander in chief."

When asked why Obama would personally order the memorial closed off, King said he couldn't get into the president's head. But "the secretary of the Interior is not going to make such a spiteful decision," he said. "This has to be a White House decision."

Most of the veterans who arrived at the World War II Memorial came courtesy of nonprofit programs, including Honor Flight Network, that transport the aging men and women to Washington.

Johnson, the spokeswoman for the National Mall and Parks, said the memorial hosts Honor Flight visitors every day.

"We want to make sure that they have a good time and are enjoying the memorial, but legally, the National Mall and the memorial are closed," she said.

Asked if she was off the clock and volunteering her time, Johnson replied: "Apparently so."

– CNN's Bryan Koenig contributed to this report.


Filed under: Congress • Washington D.C.
soundoff (343 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    One side is never 100% at fault. Anybody who claims all of life's problems are the republicans/democrats sole responsibility are just simple political hacks with no independent thought. They are party puppets. Both sides are too blame and both sides don't care about who this affects, just will this give them more power.

    October 1, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  2. Mark

    Now THAT is civil disobedience!!

    USMC/VietNam

    October 1, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  3. Brian L

    "She vowed she and colleagues will be there "today, tomorrow, the next day, however long it takes" to keep the memorial open."
    hey here's a much easier way, you FASCIST Bachman, and it's also the way the government is suppose to work.....open the government back up and then try to pass bills to defund Obamacare...
    oh that's right you KNOW that they would never pass so instead of letting representative government work, you take these terrorist fascist tactics instead.
    you are such a hypocrite being at that memorial..it shows how vile you and yours really are

    October 1, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  4. Sarah Stroud

    These veterans are the embodiment of the American spirit; what the American Spirit was, and what it should still be; a group of people with a love for their country that drives their determination to make their own destiny. This brought tears to my eyes. I hope our spirit can be that strong again someday, when the need for it calls us to stand up for what we really believe in, providing that there are enough of us left who really believe in anything anymore. In their generation, Americans defended rights to protect our nation's honor. In our generation, we've demanded more rights at the cost of our honor. Had these veterans waited on "permission" from the government to meet today, they'd still be sitting outside that gate. This moment is symbolic. I hope everyone recognizes it, and takes it in for what it is. A teachable moment.

    October 1, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  5. steve

    Why must we have federal employees available to shut down open air memorials. If they still have a job then let them work to keep these things open. What exactly is needed from them anyhow.

    October 1, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  6. MichaelO

    Congress should pass a minimum spending bill to keep the government functioning for the next year. After the president signs the bill every senator and congressman needs to come to the capital steps and resign. Once all members of congress have resigned the president and vice president should do the same!

    October 1, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  7. Seriously

    The irony of Michelle Bachmann complaining about federal services being shut down is just too rich given that she was "so excited" to CAUSE THE SHUTDOWN. These people really do live in their own little fantasy worlds, don't they?

    October 1, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  8. LBB

    Michelle Bachman what a piece of work! Hustling over to the WW2 memorial to act all surprised that it's closed today after the House of Reps voted to shut down the Government. Shame on those Republican congressmen that are there pretending to look out for those Veterans! Just disgusting!

    October 1, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  9. KnowsAlot123

    Breaking the law is breaking the law. time to throw them in jail

    October 1, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  10. Grady

    After they have stormed the memorial...they should storm congress.

    October 1, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  11. are122

    Asked if she was off the clock and volunteering her time, Johnson replied: "Apparently so." <~~You are a hero, Johnson!

    October 1, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  12. Eric

    Why is a park that requires no government employees even closed... Its a walk through site.

    October 1, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  13. Nodack

    Veteran
    I think there was a Democrat Senator there as well helping these folks, for all you hating on the Republicans.

    October 1, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |

    Good for him. He didn't shut down the government, the Republicans did. The Democrats said let's fund the government. The Republicans said they would only fund the Government if Obamacare was shut down first knowing full well that wasn't going to happen. Blame 100% on Republicans. If the Democrats said we will only fund the government if Republicans raise taxes on the top 2% by 50% you could blame the Democrats.

    October 1, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  14. Disgruntled Citizen

    Republicans are destroying this country

    October 1, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  15. Nan

    Congress should lose their pay and perks so they can get a good idea of how the hard working people make a living. They knew when all this started that they would shut down the government. It's too bad the people, who Congress works for, can't shut them down, without pay.

    October 1, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  16. Johhny Fever

    What people fail to realize, by removing those barricades they are exposing these monuments to looters and vandals.
    Without anyone to watch over that stuff, it's going to get wrecked... and THEN who are they going to blame? Certainly not themselves.
    Awesome that vets were able to visit, but I doubt anyone is going to hang around at the end of the day to help clear out everyone and fix the fence.

    October 1, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  17. emtvalerie

    Shutdown, schmutdown! I'm glad to see some people will not be held hostage to the tempre tantrums held in the capitol!

    October 1, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  18. Greg

    Orchestrated by GOP and tea party, you say?

    Then tell me - just what branch of the government (with who as the Cheif Admin Officer) decided to barricade *and* man the fence?

    It's all about showboating -

    October 1, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
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