October 1st, 2013
12:26 PM ET
12 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. MilitaryAF

    Considering the fact that the GOP is responsible for this shut-down, Republicans are the LAST people that should be there. For those that ARE there, the vets should BOO them, on-camera.

    October 1, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  2. Sue

    Are the parks barricaded off at night? Or just the information / gift shops closed?

    October 1, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  3. Rusty

    So – was this something planned? Because it seems odd that we had a group of people at the gates, ready to go, with Cameras, bagpipes and Republican congressmen. In time for the morning newscasts no less! Our government hasn't made me bitter and cynical, noooooooo. Now, had anthropologists stormed the front door of the Smithsonian.......

    October 1, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  4. Karl

    @NEVER to VOTE ... so is the Democratic party.

    October 1, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  5. Flordia person

    Sorry You can't have it both ways. We are either shut down or not.
    Viet Nam Veteran & shut down civil servant

    October 1, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  6. Mike

    Welcome to the new Republican Tea Party!!!!! Just say no to compromise. They are disgusting.

    October 1, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  7. Adam

    @Tampa TIm, you're an idiot:) All disabled Vets still got paid today, and the GOP or Democrats know touching veterans benefit money is political suicide. As a side note I received a pay raise every year of active duty that W. Bush was in office.

    October 1, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  8. douglas

    WOW... such hostility toward Republicans. Hope you liberals live long enough to see the country spend its way into third world status. Actually, that is what your leader Obama wants... everyone to be equally poor. Fly down to Cuba, and see how it turns out. I did.

    October 1, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  9. Mr. Meow Meow Bread Crust Kitty

    Hey, the parks and memorials belong to the people, who says we need the government there to keep them open. This was a scare tactic by the Obama administration to try and worry people.

    October 1, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  10. drc

    Good for them. It is a horse and pony show....'close' things like a Memorial because it is 'visible' versus lets say the hundreds of useless Govt agencies. Just like Obama stopping white house tours while he has no issue with his over-the-top vacations for him and his clown family.

    Both parties are a joke...I see many blame the GOP yet the Dems are no better, they just market their nonsense like a used car salesman.

    Our Govt has shut down 17 times before but of course this time it is somehow different because of the King Clown in charge. 17 Trillin in debt and the Dems want to spend more so they can get re-elected while the GOP is not much better.

    Is the King Clown still out golfing?

    October 1, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  11. mike

    whatever your politics, the barricading of the monument is ridiculous. on any night you can tour the monument, as there are no gates, so why would barricades be put up now? petty waste of $$. good for you vets, and thank you for your sacrifice in both the european and pacific theaters of action

    October 1, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  12. lifebeyonddarkness

    The irony if the century, the Republicans are the ones who caused the government shut down and the Republicans are the ones these vets probably voted for. Makes a lot of sense to me. We wouldn't be in this mess if the GOP would just accept that the Affordable Care Act passed, and was upheld by the SCOTUS and would stop trying to put riders in the budget to delay it. You lost, accept it and move on, stop holding the nation hostage and then acting like you're shocked that the government is closing monuments. IT IS YOUR FREAKING FAULT GOP!

    October 1, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  13. Michael Benjamin

    Thank you Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz, R-TX.

    October 1, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  14. A Kickin' Donkey

    Good point regarding voting patterns / history. Republic politicians often try to fool "low information" or DETATCHED voters. Independent votrs need to recognize that they hold the secret to squashing Washington dsyfunction. Vote Democratic state legislatures and Governors into office. They can then ROLLBACK the gerry mandered districts that protect T-Party Congressmen that REFUSE to work with the national Democrats. Indies. until you do that, and keep it up for 20 years, you have no standing to complain about gridlock. Once you've done that, if things don't change, FIRE the Democrats in 20 years.

    October 1, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  15. JJ

    GOP. Showboating with displays of selective patriotism. As usual.

    October 1, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  16. Frank

    What hypocrites. Politicians running for a photo op playing the part of caring people.

    October 1, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  17. Jay

    What part of "The Gov't is SHUT DOWN" don't people understand. I understand the rightful indignation but this is what we voted for on both sides of the aisle. WW I vets and everyone else will have to live without many things until this gets settled.

    October 1, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  18. John in Brooklyn

    I'd have the Republican members of Congress arrested and charged with trespassing.

    October 1, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  19. They should have been arrested.

    No matter how patriotic you may want to believe this is, it is breaking and entering of a Federal installation.

    October 1, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  20. Dan I.

    Michelle Bachmann stated, in regards to the shutdown that she was thrilled "This is exactly what we wanted and we got it."

    So to answer your question Michelle "Who would say no to a World War II vet."

    The answer is...YOU! Loudly and with apparent pride.

    October 1, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  21. Chris

    Once again THAT generation of men and women are leading the way. Do you think Harry Reid, Pelosi, and Obama are watching and listening? No, they are too dumb and too socialistic to even think that there are people smarter than them and showing them that the government sucks. Obamacare is bringing down America, just as the liberals want.

    October 1, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  22. Richard

    These Vets have been through and back again from places that would frighten many to death. Our freedom as Americans was earned and protected by these same Vets. You don't need to hold the gates open for them , they have opened many gates before them many times. If you can't help them then get out of their way.
    This is their memorial with or without us.

    October 1, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  23. Person of Interest

    You said no to the WWII Vets when you shut down the government. When you take drastic steps and close everything to prove a point, you essentially flipped the entire country the bird. The fact that you come to "the rescue" of these men is politicking at it's worst. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. You made a decision to not compromise at least have the balls to stand behind it.

    October 1, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  24. Concerned

    I am wonderfing if the GOP realize that they have given 2014 and 2016 back to the Demorcats. How stupid can one get!

    October 1, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  25. AIM WO4

    Park employees... on the job... and they close it off? Laughable. I love America.

    October 1, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
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