October 1st, 2013
12:26 PM ET
1 year 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. Tampa Tim

    Veterans from that era have always voted GOP. I wonder when their benefits stop if they will realize the republicans were bragging about shutting down government, and should have passed a clean bill.

    October 1, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  2. sonny chapman

    Bully for them ! They ran through bullets as young men; they can run through Red Tape as old codgers.

    October 1, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  3. Zolicon

    "World War II Memorial barricade."To all those in the Military & those who are thinking of joining the Military.You should visit one of those Memorials so that You can see the only thanks You get for being fool enough to fight and Die protecting the Elitists way of life.

    October 1, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  4. Alex R

    I think that people should GO and HIKE the parks, no matter what officials want to do. There are noT ANY reasons to close national parks, as they generate their own money (entrance fees) and there are not many people necessary to provide minimal services. For example, Yousemite's roads are open; no way for officials to prohibit people from hiking no matter what they (official) wants – people just must come and STOP and HIKE and IGNORE all posts.

    So veterans are 100% right ignoring 'closure'.

    This is just dirty game by government (in case of big national parks which are 100% self contained). And in such case, teh best people can do is to broke this game by not following such dumb orders.

    October 1, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  5. Woman In California

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

    What nerve. Isn't she STILL collecting a government check?
    Typical republican. Anytime the government benefits them – they're there with cameras to show their "patriotism" but when it benefits YOU, it's all bad and too big just like their false god Reagan. I hope they throw her on a government garbage dump where she belongs and I also hope the cameras are there rolling when it happens.

    October 1, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. Whatever

    Vote every last Republican out of office.

    October 1, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    The economies in many red states may suffer the most during the shutdown. There's about a half dozen red states that have 20% or more of their state's employee working for the federal government. Wyoming is a good example of one such state.

    October 1, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  8. Crocky

    That's a crock. Veterans from that era have NOT always voted GOP.

    October 1, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  9. Tom Jones

    Yup, you're so right, all veterans from that era have always voted GOP (sarcasm)

    You obviously don't have any vets in your coward family.

    October 1, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  10. boungiorno

    discraceful way to treat our American Veterans NO WORDS CAN SUFICE!

    October 1, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  11. Susan

    Well they better pick up their trash and carry it out when they leave because no one will be around to collect it for them.

    October 1, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  12. Sister Valium

    The vets from WW 1 almost brought down the government. We need them to do that again.

    October 1, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  13. DeepintheHeart

    Good for them for breaking through! This whole government is a fraud of massive preportions anyway. Harry Reid and Barrack Hussein Obama would do well to pay attention.

    October 1, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  14. Concerned Voter

    @ Tampa Tim, No one from either party was bragging- it's folks like yourself that always jump to a partisan position that encourage this despicable result from BOTH parties.

    October 1, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  15. retrodrone

    Who in their right mind would stand idly by when a Member of Congress shows up? We need to get in their faces and demand that they do the job we're paying them $174,000 a year each to do.

    October 1, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  16. Jenny

    So wait, Congress didn't pass a budget bill and our reps are now confused that parks and services are no longer available and they can't get anyone on the phone at offices? There aren't words.

    October 1, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  17. John Rosen

    It was obviously an attempt by the libs to disparage our heros.

    October 1, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  18. TheThinker

    WW2 Vets RULE.
    Hey CNN, how 'bout some pics.

    October 1, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    I didn't realize that our Veterans fought for the right to ELIMINATE debate and negotiation.

    October 1, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  20. boungiorno

    Veterans Stand Up For Your Rights

    October 1, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  21. John

    It seems like these congressmen have better things to be doing than walking around Washington... like maybe their jobs!?

    October 1, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  22. NEVER to VOTE REPUBLICAN again

    The Republican party is disgraceful!

    October 1, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  23. njm1944

    Republicans were NOT bragging about shutting down government! They did their job. The obstructionist, my-way-or-the-highway Democrat controlled Senate failed to do its job!

    October 1, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  24. DeepintheHeart

    @tampatim Veterans' benefits are not going to be cut off and you should know it. Social Security checks will continue, even if new appliacations are held up temporarily. Read about the Clinton shutdown.

    October 1, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  25. Johnny 5

    This country has become an embarrassment. I'm only 36 and in that little time I've seen a terrible changes to our daily lives and values. Socialism and greed are a deadly combination.

    October 1, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14