October 1st, 2013
12:26 PM ET
10 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. Sad American

    We will see if Harry Reid and his team of thugs have over, or under, estimated how dumb the American public really is... Will their shutting down of the US government and blaming others work????

    October 1, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  2. kirk

    I didn't realise he was asking for a blank check, and the only thing the gop opposes is the aca, and if they dont know where the money is going:: they need to be fired, its there bill, your racism is costing us all

    October 1, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    LOL

    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.

    Actually Jenny, Congress DID pass the bill 4 TIMES, the SENATE DID NOT!!!!
    ------------------------
    Actually, the Senate passed a budget in late May, which much to the dismay of Sen. McCain never made it to budget conference with the House because the process was stalled and finally blocked by Sen. Cruz.

    October 1, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  4. donald

    no one cares.

    October 1, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  5. Mark

    Storming a closed memorial, pretty childish (and obviously orchestrated) behavior.

    October 1, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  6. Throw the bums out

    Thank You Republican's for hating the country so much that you would prefer to destroy it because you cannot handle AMERICA HAS CHANGED FOREVER! Throw the tea party bums out especially Ted Canada Cruz...Michelle IDIOT Bachmann...And many other brain challenged tea party dirt bags...

    October 1, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  7. Reality Check

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

    Does she realize the place for her to stand to keep the memorial open is *not* at the memorial? Is this kind of thinking really the best the country has for so-called leaders?

    October 1, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  8. Wake up People!

    Maybe President Obama should call Willard and apologize for putting that azz whipping on him last November and tell him the people were wrong for not electing him (Willard) and everyone apologizes profusely and asks him to be POTUS??

    Would that make the GOP/baggers happy??
    Hold your breath waiting on that......Please.

    And Congress wonders why have a 10% approval rating. Can you imagine the outrage from the right IF the dems tried something like this after a loss??

    Fox would be calling us traitors from now on. I keep remembering when Bush was handed the WH by his brother, every republican in the country kept saying, IT'S OVER, GET OVER IT!
    Too bad they didn't take their own advice!

    October 1, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Jenny – actually, no, Congress did not pass a bill. The House passed four bills and the Senate passed four bills. Just not the same bill. What do they call it when you are doing the same thing and expecting a different result...?

    October 1, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  10. Hogan's Goat

    Well, it took a government shutdown to do it, but we are finally going to be rid of the GOP. The teabags don't have the votes by themselves, and neither do the moderates or Libertarians. Obama may actually get a third term.

    October 1, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  11. Dan

    So why was Bachmann "walking" and not WORKING in the halls of Congress in an effort to get this resolved?

    October 1, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  12. Paul Kailas

    I hope the Democrats refuse to pass anything but a complete bill! The GOP wants to tie up Obama for the rest of his term just funding the government 10 days at a time.

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

    Although if American doesn't shut down, there's no pressure on the Senate to agree to a bill they don't want.

    October 1, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  14. supernana

    first off, wwll vets beni's will not be cut as they now collect social security. my son is an afghanistan vet with a purple heart. he will NOT be paid. he's lucky he has family. many do not.

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

    Reps. Gohmert, Bachmann, and King:

    Excuse me, but THESE ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR ACTIONS. You can't pass a bill that you know will result in a government shutdown and then say "Why aren't the park rangers letting people in?" They're not letting people in BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT BEING PAID, you idiot. Are you all going to go around to all the national parks and let people in there, too? Are you going to let researchers into the National Archives? If you weren't so harmful to the country, I'd find you ridiculous.

    October 1, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  16. Miles

    The real problem is that we have bureaucrats who think they own this country. Well, the people own the country and we just hire them to help keep the place in order. Since they clearly can't manage that, we just need a new crowd come election time. If we allow any of these knuckleheads to stay in office thru the next elections – well, shame on us.

    This is about our national honor – not the President's personal honor – nor the honor of the various nare-do-wells who want to push their personal agenda on the poeple who elected them.

    If we fire them all a couple go-arounds, maybe we;ll finally get to a crop that 'represents' the people who elected them and not their own interests. Why do you suppose congress and the White House are exempted from the Affordable Care Act ? Do we think that was an oversight ?

    Fire them all !!!

    October 1, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  17. Pancho Villa

    Congressmen standing at the WWII Memorial asking what happened... kinda like Lee Harvey Oswald standing around in Dallas, Nov 22, 1963, asking, "Hey what just happened.....?"

    Do these Congressmen not understand what "shutting down" the federal government means?

    And why are they out walking around like tourists? Shouldn't they be either in session working things out or on a rack getting an IV and rehydrated for a new round of negotiations in Congress?.

    October 1, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  18. mjt

    Michelle Bachman?!? She got what she wanted according to her past statements – a government shut down. These are the stupid things that happen when people in government forget they are public servants. Glad that the vets got in, but again, this shut down is what the GOP seems to want, you can't have it both ways.

    October 1, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  19. GreyBeard

    Of couse Bachmann walked over. You know she couldn't avoid a camera.

    October 1, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  20. Farrok

    Tear the gates down; these men saved America.......... We are proud of each and every one of you !

    October 1, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  21. Hogan's Goat

    "Boo on the democrats for not willing to make any changes to their horrible legislation called Obamacare."

    Amazing how many people have never either had an eighth-grade civics class or even seen "Schoolhouse Rock." Obamacare is not a "legislation," Cletus, it's a law. How many laws you reckon have been repealed because the people who voted against them had a crying fit? Answer: none. You just caused a recession that will last months, and you never had any legal chance of repealing a law that was passed a long time ago, and you are probably proud of your representative for 'standing up' and pretending he was on your side. Lackwits voting for other lackwits is the problem, not healthcare.

    October 1, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  22. Skallagrim

    "Bagpipes of war, Powerful as thunder. Requiem for an epic fight.
    Bagpipes of war, Prelude of Fury. Let the bagpipes start the war"

    October 1, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  23. Impeach Congress

    Explain a government slow down to creditors. This will be great for the economy that is trying to rebound!!!!!

    October 1, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  24. joyce

    Talk about outrageous behavior..How out of touch are these congresspeople
    when they don't know the ramifications of their actions?
    These from the very same people who probably didn't read Ocare back in 2010.
    I can't wait to see this on the news tonight.
    Also the last time I saw a piper was back in July in Ireland..
    I only wish I could have been there today to cher these patirots
    on. Nixon once went to the Lincoln Memorial to talk to vets
    during the Vietnam war..Where's Barry?!!

    October 1, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  25. RIchard Long

    Hoax and Blame at it's finest.
    Just as with Obama's Sequester, the cuts will hit any public-facing facility or service. Meanwhile, Air Force One will be fueled up and ready to go to:
    - take Obama to his next fundraiser
    - fly one of the First Family pets across the country
    - take Michelle and/or kids to their next fabulous vacation

    A REAL leader would have taken responsibility for the situation and fixed it. But we do not have a real leader, just one that avoids to 'make the buck stop here' and just blames everyone else.

    October 1, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
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