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. smc

    "'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."

    Then either go back to work and pay this country's bills or RESIGN Bachmann. Stop goofing off outside on the taxpayer's dime.

    October 1, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  2. Cali-Girl

    If these "elected officials" had any morals and self respect, they would give up their pay as long as the government is shut down and employees are on furlough.

    October 1, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  3. Nodack

    Politicians who shut down the government flocking to the WWII site trying to act surprised and angry that the site is closed for the cameras. Disgusting.

    October 1, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  4. Stacey

    So the shut down is for everyone except certain people? Makes sense.

    October 1, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  5. Fed Dude

    So, Johnson, spokeswoman for National Mall and Parks is "volunteering her time"? She just broke the law. NO FURLOUGHED government employee may volunteer their time, under penalty of law.

    Time to repeal the 27th ammendment.

    October 1, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  6. Marcus

    What I would really like to see is protesters fill the capitol building and refuse to leave. Picket at the homes of congress members. Take down barriers at national parks and memorials. "National" means it belongs to the nation, in other words, to all of us. Congress be damned.

    October 1, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  7. herchato

    If the republicans want control, all they have to do is win elections and they can make laws. Isn't that the way a democracy supposed to work?

    October 1, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  8. Ray

    Personally, I think the Republicans have let Ted Cruz dig a hole for them so deep and so large in his effort to defund ACA that they do not now have a solution except to continue to blackmail the whole country and shut the government down. Ted Cruz is fighting his own demons. He's still fighting Communism and Fidel Castro and is so out of touch he will undoubetdly be a one-term phenonomen. He will be the cause of the dismantling and the demise of the Republican and Tea Party agenda in the upcoming mid-term elections. As an Independent voter, it will be a long time, if ever, before I ever vote for any Republican, let alone a Tea Party candidate. I hope they come to their senses soon.

    October 1, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    What a cheap trick!

    October 1, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  10. Moose

    You paid for it GO IN!! The parks and Memorials shouldn't be closed,they took our tax money to build them we shouldn't be blocked from enjoying them or have to pay to enjoy them. Especially the people who fought for this country! So glad they got to see the Memorial they went to visit.

    October 1, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. Mitchell

    So the republican majority forces a government shutdown and then have the balls to act like closing the memorial was some type of crime when they effectively made it happen. Logic at its finest.....

    October 1, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  12. 2Km N of GZero

    All these politicians grandstanding. Disgusting. Willing to break the law but not willing to support the law on Obamacare. Disgusting.

    October 1, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  13. Proud Mississippian

    To Mark who has posted:

    Mark

    Congress knows these deadlines are coming months in advance, yet they always wait until the 11th hour so they can have their showdowns. As for the Veterans breaking past the barricade, who bussed them in. Sounds pretty much like a childish Republican/Tea Party ploy.

    October 1, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |

    Mark

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

    October 1, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
    ____________________________

    This was not an orchestrated or childish maneuver by these members of the greatest generation. This WWII vets from Mississippi have had this flight planned for more than 6 months. These men are in their 90s – they don't have time to be childish. The logistics and economics required to send a chartered plane of veterans to see their memorial means that the flight could not be rescheduled. Not to mention that many of these men might not live much longer or be physically able to make this trip. My brother-in-law (who is an Iraqi vet) is on that flight as a guardian...he and my sister along with many others have volunteered countless hours to make this happen. I am proud of them for making this last "storm" possible. There are likely men on that plane who stormed the beaches of Normandy – without them our country would be much different that it is today.

    October 1, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  14. chaloner11

    Yep only Obama and the Democrats can shut down national parks. They voted no on the House passed budget bill. Since when did the Democrat controlled Senate passed a budget bill? Only Obama worshipers will believe what comes out of Obama's mouth.

    October 1, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  15. Hap

    Little known fact: Ms Johnson could be subjected to disciplinary action for volunteering her time during a furlough. Others like myself are expected to work without pay. After all this is over Ms. Johnson will get paid for not working, I'll get paid for actually working, and the politicians will have been getting paid all along for creating this mess. Only our dysfunctional government could have rules that make all this possible. No kidding this is the time to hit the rest button and vote out 90% of the current office holders, the other 10% have to prove they're worthy by showing bipartisanship.

    October 1, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  16. rick

    this is not just a republican thing democrats are just as much to blame. neither side wants to comprise. so we need to vote out all the extremists on both sides not just blame one side. the strict party line is completely useless to anyone.

    October 1, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  17. An Opinion

    "Closing" an open air memorial and blaming it on the shutdown is the sensationalism. Apparently while the guards stand there to keep people out they are "essential" employees but if they stand there and let people walk through public land they are not essential? Unfortunately, the lack of PRESIDENTIAL leadership knows no bounds and maximum pain will be inflicted on Americans by the President and the Senate because they will not do thieir jobs.

    October 1, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  18. Kerry

    Just goes to show you that you don't need the government open to actually go somewhere. Just think of the number of jobs that could permanently be cut for good.

    October 1, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  19. TX JIM

    Of course attention queen Michele Bachmann hustled over there.. I mean there were photo ops to be had..

    Did you give your half smile like when you are with Marcus or your Newsweek cover crazy smile Michele?

    October 1, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    Hogan Goat.... No president can server but TWO TERMS! At least now... WE need to make it so senators and reps can only ser 8 or 12 years so we can clean house of all these childish people WHO DO NOT LISTEN TO THE people who elected them.....

    October 1, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  21. chaloner11

    Yep Obama and Senate Democrats voted no to the Republican controlled House budget bill. Since when did Senate Democrats passed a budget bill? Only Obama worshipers will believe what comes out of Obama's mouth. During those vets prime days Obama would never be President he would be considered a traitor. only Obama worshipers will think that's racist.

    October 1, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  22. No one

    Go to work House Republicans, no need to stand around at the memorials you could care less about. As CNN themselves listed, parts of the Department of Interior are shut down this is no surprise.

    October 1, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  23. sly

    As ineffective as our Congress is right now, the biggest fools around are us, the citizens on these blogs.

    WE elected the Tea Party (well, I didn't vote for them).
    WE elected every single member of Congress.
    WE elect Congress, and Presidents, every 4 years.

    It's always so amusing to listen to those responsible for our ineffective government trying to blame someone else, in this case, the people we elected.

    Face it, Americans are weak, and we blame, and we blame some more. Way too few of us take a long look in the mirror and realize who we really should be blaming.

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

    I think they stormed the wrong barricade in Washington.

    October 1, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  25. Freedom88

    These memorials and parks belong to the people, not the government.

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