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. Mark

    Cancel the pay for ALL elected officials AND their healthcare benefits as well. See how they feel about the shutdown with no health coverage, like so many Americans are living.

    October 1, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  2. Kelldog

    It is amazing to me that the administration became so effecient and was able to quickly erect barricades and post closed signs yet have not proposed a budget in 5 years. How quickly they react to snub or attempt to provoke the American publi, yet move at a snails pace at accomplishing anything that would actually benefit the American people. And to all those partisan fools, explain to me this action. This is about a defunct government from parties and at the top. They no longer represent "We the People". They only pursue their own partisan agendas. Term limits for all. No more special retirements or benefits. The Congress needs to return to the days when it was comprised of citizen politicians serving limited time and then returning to their intended careers or businesses. Our forefathers never intended political positions to be careers or lifetime jobs.

    October 1, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    Scripted and orchestrated. How cute.

    October 1, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  4. dpicm86

    Interesting how members of Congress were available for comment to reporters while strolling about the Mall. Maybe some of those security officers should be escorting these lost legislators back to their committees. Get a little work done, perhaps.

    October 1, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  5. johnharry

    why is tom harkin outside, and not inside passing a budget? I am surprised Bachmann knows where the memorial is at, maybe an aide had to point it out.

    October 1, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    BOTH parties are disgraceful. Partisanship is disgraceful. Lobbyists are disgraceful.

    October 1, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  7. Name jk. Sfl. GOP conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Of course Bachmann was there grandstanding, when she was seen the previous night celebrating the shutdown with the other house GOP garbage of America the night before, the GOP teahage is lucky she quite

    October 1, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  8. caveguy

    Congress critters; stand your ground and start ticketing all trespassers to the parks and memorials including the mall.
    It will not only show your resolve, the fines will generate the additional funds needed to continue supporting your perks.

    October 1, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    It should be noted that this article achieved the trifecta of Teatroll nutjobbery: quotes from Bachman, Gomhert AND Steve King. You'd be hard pressed to find more amazing concentration of crazy than in those three empty noggins.

    October 1, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  10. DB

    Good for those veterans:

    They are the ones that put their lives on the line serving this country and therefore should be allowed to visit the WWII Memorial and should not be held back at all!

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

    The whole of Congress is a disgrace to this country. None of them should get paid, and they should hang their heads in shame.

    October 1, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  12. Chuck

    These Republicans really are clueless ... They shut down the government and then grandstand (read: "photo op") at a site that was closed down because the government was forced to shut down ...

    October 1, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  13. Polly215

    This is a disgrace to our Vets! and as for Susan, I would bet that 99% of those Vets visiting a National Park anywhere whether it is in D.C. or Alaska, or all parks in between they don't LITTER! They have Values, they have a code of ethics!!! We could all take a lesson from them! And it burns me up that you think they would just so casually throw down a coke can! But maybe you have no respect for them because you have never been in a Family where at least one of your ancestors fought so bravely in a war!

    October 1, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  14. Yorkie

    The Democratic party is disgraceful too!!

    October 1, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  15. nate

    This is all to blame on the Democraps!

    October 1, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  16. Lisa

    Those who caused this should have had their salaries defunded while the childishness ensues. Pass a budget losers.

    October 1, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  17. Ron sommerville

    Why do the politions act like small childrn, throwing tantrums like a child thats cant get its way. I am not sure about what is in this bill, but, I know that the people of the u.s. Are better than this. Those in politics work with blinders on. It is time for the goverment to take the load off thr back of the lower income families and place it where it belongs.

    October 1, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  18. jon

    Another boondoggle caused by the Repulicrats.

    October 1, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  19. Gary W.

    Hmm, Republicans have asked that the Congress and the President not be exempt from their own law. That, according to Democrats is evil and disgraceful. Oh, the second evil and disgraceful thing according to Democrats is that Republicans want to postpone the individual mandate a year like the President did for businesses. That's it folks. That is all they asked for. (Not seeing the evil or disgraceful part, but I am not a Democrat.)

    October 1, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  20. John Melnick

    This Congress should be ashamed of themselves........

    October 1, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  21. cookie lewis

    The Republican's refusal to negotiate, thus shutting down necessary federal services of the country, at the expense of all Americans is truly outrageous! I totally blame the Tea Party and the rest of the Republicans for not voting against the Tea Party. It is not the job of the President to gut passed legislation that helps many of us with pre-existing medical conditions or low income who cannot afford the cartels of health insurance companies, who buy the way are screwing us and our nation's doctor's on their rates of reimbursement. Americans, take a few minutes today to protest to your congressperson this event. Go online, or to the newspapers that you will vote your displeasure at the next elections!

    October 1, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  22. Andy

    There is no paid staff at any of the monuments or parks right now except for a skeleton staff of essential personnel (security). Someone has a medical emergency, falls out of a wheelchair, or is wacky enough to deface the monument, then who are you going to call? If you want to have your monuments, parks, etc., accept visitors then you need to pay people to run them. Congress has decided to furlough them instead. No offense intended to veterans. I expect veterans wouldn't force their way in to a store that was closed for business. The memorial is closed for business due to the inaction of our legislature.

    October 1, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  23. Ed Pet

    I can't blame anyone who fights a health care law that exempts over 1,400 organizations for their convenience and does not see fit to exempt Churches from buying contraception against their beliefs. If the Affordable Health care Act is so good then why iare those that wrote it exempt? Wake up people! This reminds me of Chevy Chase in Caddy Shack when he said to Bill Murray – I have a pool and a pond – the pond would be good for you.

    October 1, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  24. joet

    God Bless these vets and thank you. I can't believe the sheer crass of anyone from Congress showing up. The SOB's will even try to get votes in the midst of their failures.

    October 1, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  25. Iowan

    How is it that paying security guards to keep people out of the WWII memorial is considered essential while keeping the memorial open is not?

    October 1, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
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