October 1st, 2013
12:26 PM ET
7 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 (344 Responses)
  1. HUSSEINGETSTHEBLAME

    For many of these Vets,this may be there last trip...Park Police officers stood aside out of respect..(Mark..you just don't get it..son)

    October 1, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  2. Rudy NYC

    dsk wrote on page 9:

    The Republicans control the House the Democrats the Senate. What we need is a compromise. ... ... ...
    --------------------------
    The Democrats did compromise. Democrats didn't bring a bucket list of ideological demands to the table like the Republicans have done.. The Democrats could be demanding that Republicans pass background checks, immigration reform, infrastructure bills, or even repealing oil subsidies, but they're not doing that. Democrats could have responded in kind to the right wing's bucket list regarding the ACA.

    While Republicans complain very loudly about the Senate not taking votes on their bill, which we know will not pass, the House Republicans fail to recognize that they have not brought the Senate bill up for a vote because they know it would pass.

    October 1, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  3. mimiva

    Lets see, a bill became a law, a law was passed, a law was upheld about 43 times, SCOTUS upheld the law!! How in the world does anyone thing the GOP should be allowed to force a shutdown to change a law because they do not like it. Maybe poli sci 101 should be taught before you come to Washington!!! Ideology is one thing but this is madness by a fraction of the country!! Just ask half the folks who live in my NOVA neighborhood....

    October 1, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  4. Robyn

    .

    >> 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.

    Like the French politician who saw a mob rushing by his window
    and said, "I must find out where my people are going so I can lead them."

    .

    October 1, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  5. Douglas

    The chutzpa of republican congressman to meet these people and lie to their face by blaming someone else for the shutdown is more than disgraceful. I have no word that adequately describes the actual level of their sleazy behavior. Disgusting people they are.

    October 1, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  6. mike

    supernana – guess you missed the part where they approved funding the military. Your son will continue to get paid. Might want to keep up before posting.

    October 1, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  7. The fact of the matter

    If barricades were removed and security guards willingly stood aside how is it that the Vets "broke" through the barricade? Sensationalist copy is beyond contempt.

    October 1, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  8. manicdrummer

    Gosh, I wonder why all those Republicans are at the war memorial instead of back on the Hill working out a compromise. They picked the wrong legislation to attack and now they're wrapping themselves in American flags and trying oh so desperately to save their own behinds.

    October 1, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  9. Kit Kat

    To Throw the Bums Out: Please don't refer to Ted Cruz with Canada in his name, we don't want to be associated. He left the country at 1 year of age, please, please. He is Ted Cruz, American, and a Tea Bagger! UH OH, hope you don't end up with him in 2014 people.

    October 1, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  10. SN

    Bachman wants to make a stand at the Memorial? Hope does not go the way Custer's did...

    Democrats elected a Black man. GOP had no answer to that. Couldn't' defeat the Black man. So that created a leadership vacuum which has been filled up by NUT CASES who just HATE him.

    Obama said he will do the Healthcare stuff. Still he was elected. So the people, in the majority, want Obamacare. GOP NUT CASES are simply holding America to hostage. They are actually inland EXTREMISTS who are threatening American national security.

    Let the NUT CASES do what they want. Federal staff will get a holiday and back pay.

    October 1, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  11. Ol' Yeller

    What is it with people on here blaming the Dems for what is essentially a handful of Tea Baggers throwing a tantrum because they have no clue how a Democracy actually works? I would advise most of you to go back and take Civics 101... some of you might consider trying to do kindergarten over again as many obviously did not learn anything there either...

    October 1, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  12. Data Driven

    Oh excellent! Grandstanding at its finest, from the very people who are to blame for these closures.

    I duly note that Bachmann, Gohmert, et all., are not being held accountable by the media for their votes last night.

    October 1, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  13. John

    I hope that the members of congress are at the other 400 national parks so visitors can get into them. I would hate to think they are at this memorial because that was where the cameras are.

    October 1, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  14. Steel On Target

    GOP=Terrorist organization

    "don't get to hold the entire economy hostage over ideological demands"

    October 1, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  15. clv

    Right on Miles. These losers need to go. All of them.

    October 1, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  16. John Hillman

    Obuma is taking things way too far. How does one "close" the wide open space of the National Mall? What extra expense did he authorize for all the barricades? Seems the National Park Police were on duty. WHY if the place is really closed?

    October 1, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  17. Hogan's Goat

    Just more GOP 'false flag operations.' No question that this was planned a long time in advance for the fake outrage, and that Bachmann knew they'd be there for her arranged temper tantrum. Gee, why couldn't he get anyone on the phone? Hint: Govt shutdown.

    October 1, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  18. CNS

    No one should be surprised that our elected officials are confused over the closure on a historical monument and then get angry about it. That is only to paint himself into a better light since now he and the rest of his buddies are looked upon with distain. Sorry, you cant backtrack on this one.

    October 1, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  19. sirnoodle

    If I enter any property, including public lands, without permission it is called tresspassing and I could be subject to a fine and arrest. While I too am not happy about the shutdown, entering as they did is against the law. Nice leadership our elected representatives provide – obey the law, but only if you want to.

    October 1, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    Jenny does not seem to understand that the House of Representatives if part of Congress. The Senate is the other part. Congress has two components. the House AND the Senate. Even my student from Sudan, who is studying for the U.S. citizenship test, knows this basic fact about Congress.

    October 1, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  21. Hal

    I think all of our elected officials are grossly overpaid.

    October 1, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  22. Teahouse Fox

    If a vet, or any other member of the public, but especially a vet, wishes to walk, roll, or run through an open air memorial for a war he or she served in, then go in good health.

    How many commenters here have been to this memorial? Any of you? Have you any idea that this memorial is an open structure sitting on the National Mall? That on any other given day, the park service has virtually no presence there, aside from the odd ranger or two?

    That this memorial, like the Vietnam and Korean War memorials HAS NO GATES, and 24×7, rain or shine, the public can normally walk through the memorial?

    I have stood in the heart of this memorial and watched the sun rise, and never saw a single park ranger. Ever. Some pencil pusher had to bring gates in, and make signs, and set them up, and then get more Park Service personnel than are ever normally present in there to block the public.

    This is the most inane posturing that I have ever seen. I can see closing gift shops, and restrooms (of which the WWII memorial has neither!) in national monuments, any museums and indoor displays that require anything other than daylight to operate. But the open air monuments being closed off is an act of malicious pettiness.

    October 1, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  23. Whats Left?

    Is Ms. Bachman going to pay the personal that are manning these memorials? Or do they work for free while she gets paid to grandstand?

    October 1, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  24. 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 |
  25. dmarshari

    ARE YOU SERIOUS. Media is talking about museums and parks being closed, but does the public realize that the federal prison, which houses terrorist and murderers have furloughed people. How safe is your community without the security that correctional officer's in federal prisons?

    October 1, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
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