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

    Tom jones – I have family members who have given their life for our country, so that you chicken hawks could hide behind your mothers' skirts.

    October 1, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  2. bdby

    Once they were young and showed no fear and yet today they still show no fear.

    The greatest generation still lives!!!!

    Bravo !!

    October 1, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  3. April

    School children kept from visiting the White House–children kept from visiting museums–the elderly veterans being kept from the memorials–Obama always PUNISHES the most vulnerable–when he doesn't get his way. He is like–Impose this Massive Tax –the biggest tax ever included in one bill-on everyone –but else-,-or I will hurt someone!

    October 1, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  4. S-Hug

    These WWII vets have no one more to blame for this mess than their spoiled Baby Boomer offspring.

    October 1, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  5. RF

    Tampa Tim – Your response has to be one of the dumbest I've read in a long time. There are many from that era that voted Democratic. This era just votes like they fought wars... to stand up for what they've fought/worked for. Not willing to give everything up to a bunch of people that want everything but aren't willing to work hard or sacrifice for want they want.

    October 1, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  6. Jakes_Momma

    Sister Valium

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

    WWI vets have all passed on for the most part. There may be a few left but not enough to wage any sort of campaign.

    October 1, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  7. Matthew

    But Rep Bachmann.... you DID say no, and continue to do so, with your votes.

    Rep. Michele Bachmann: ""Who's going to say no to a World War II veteran? I certainly wouldn't"

    October 1, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  8. anonymous

    Why shutdown these open memorials where people just walk around outside? Ridiculous. It is clear Obama and the Democrats want to hurt the American people anyway they can. Disgusting.

    October 1, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  9. Florida Boy

    Good for the staff for standing aside. At least someone in this country is showing respect.

    October 1, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. Minneapolis Man

    The Greatest Generation once again proving how amazing they are and how far the younger generations must go to even compare.

    October 1, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  11. Tawny

    I would like to see \the Veterans who voted for the Tea Party give up ALL of their Federal Government benefits. Smaller government? Put your money where your mouth is. The Red States are the net takers.

    October 1, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  12. S-Hug

    These WWII vets have no one more to blame for this mess than their Baby Boomer offspring. CNN, let me speak!

    October 1, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. Kenny K

    @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.
    __________________________
    You are on the point. People do not realize that the place need to be cleaned and trash need to be picked up.

    October 1, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Go Vets!

    October 1, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  15. BSmith

    Interesting that the democratic media are feeding all the anti-republican soundbites – what a concept. Anyone care to look at what they are fighting for? Obamacare is a disaster waiting to happen... if you don't think so, check out socialized medicine anywhere else - oh yeah – you'll get care - after you pay additional $$ for it, otherwise, prepare for rationing. What incentive does a healthy young person have to pay $100+/month as opposed to paying a $100 fine for the whole year? And with no pre-existing condition restrictions, why not continue to pay the $100 fine until you're really sick and then opt in? And if the dems REALLY wanted to end this, why not go to the bargaining table - they are just as much to blame – vote ALL of the congress out. And get them started on next year's budget now because it seems to always be a surprise to them that a new fiscal year is coming and they need to work out the budget before it actually gets here. And how about they don't go on summer vacation until the nation's business has been addressed?

    October 1, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  16. Michael

    Why is that congresswoman out taking a nice little stroll around DC instead of being at the capital working to resolve this shutdown. Last time I check she is still getting paid. Kudos to the vets who crossed the line. Kudos to those who didn't as well. Thank you so much for your service.

    October 1, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  17. U.S. Army Retired

    For a WWII vet, breaching a gate patrolled by rent-a-cops is a gimme. Way to go guys! The greatest generation continues to lead the way.

    October 1, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  18. Jakes_Momma

    "The Greatest Generation" still making a difference! This just made me smile... I want to still be crossing lines and taking charge when I reach that point in life.

    Good for those who stepped aside and let them pass. ...as for Ms. Bachmann, go away.

    October 1, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  19. Karl

    It is truly baffling that the Democrats can blast the Republicans for being unwilling to compromise, but then they turn around and do the exact same thing! And the media as well as all the sheeple in this country don't even notice! Very sad.

    October 1, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  20. thelittledrinker

    repeal the 27th Amendment, why should all these idiots get paid and everyone else is furloughed!!!! what do they care if the goverment shuts down, all there bills with be paid and they dont care about the working class!! They all need to be voted out!!!

    October 1, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  21. Becky

    Good for them. It's a memorial.

    October 1, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  22. Fantom

    We pay a lot of people on capitol hill about 880.00 an hour (±) to do exactly NOTHING!! Talk about WELFARE? Talk about FOOD STAMPS?? Boy, are they getting the gold? Really, what a bunch of Judases!!

    October 1, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  23. BILLB

    Oh Stop it- Timmy......Both sides are at fault–They are all Politicians-How dare you try to drag these Heros into your political Nonsense-Shame on YOU!!!

    October 1, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  24. Observer

    I know that I am going to get a lot of heat for this opinion, but here it is anyway. While it is easy to cheer the action of these veterans and by all means, I want them to have access to their memorial, where does this end? Should the crowd be able to bust into the Smithsonian museums with nobody there to guard the artifacts? Should the mob be able to storm into the Library of Congress with no one to look after the collection. As for the people who mention that there is no maintenance necessary in the National Parks....are you serious? Who keeps people from doing all sorts of illegal activity in those parks. "Oh look honey, lets swim in this mineral spring...there is no ranger watching us." As I said before, at first glance, I applaud, but as somebody else already pointed out, you will feel differently when it is trashed and nobody is there to look after it and clean it up.

    October 1, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  25. starcrost

    Honestly, the sentiment is great. I'm glad the veterans stood up for what they believed in. But, to the members of Congress that were there too – get your butts back in session and fix the problem rather than complain about it to the media!

    October 1, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
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