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. Thinks2010

    @Alex R–Encouraging people to enter partially staffed wilderness parks this time of year is not a good idea. It is far too easy for people who are not wilderness savvy to get in trouble especially now when the weather is so changeable. Sure, most people who visit Yosemite visit the Valley and not the back country, but it is possible for people to get in trouble in the Valley if they stray very far off the main paths or roads as there is wilderness even in that heavily peopled Valley. With the parks only partially staffed, responses to anything will be slow. Also, my guess is that one of the things that will not be staffed is trash pick up. Who wants the heavily visited sites within are parks to become trash piles.

    I say let the National Parks have a rest from human visitation for a few days.

    October 1, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  2. jj

    Let's make it clear to the veterans that it is the Republicans who shut down the government.

    October 1, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  3. Paul

    They took Normandy under the Fuhrer's watch, now they took their memorial back under the Boehner's.

    October 1, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  4. Sherri

    Kind of funny. I mean, these vets knew this was going to happen. And yes, this group typically votes Republican so it is their actions that got the Repubs into office, and it is those people who have caused this. Then the R's ask why it was shut down, like they didn't know it would be when they are the CAUSE of it being shut down. And all the while, Congress still gets paid. How ironic.

    October 1, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  5. LOL

    Jenny

    So wait, Congress didn't pass a budget bill and our reps are now confused that parks and services are no longer available and they can't get anyone on the phone at offices? There aren't words.
    _______________
    Actually Jenny, Congress DID pass the bill 4 TIMES, the SENATE DID NOT!!!!

    October 1, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    They are our veterans.
    Let them in and good for them!

    October 1, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  7. Sherri

    Kind of funny. I mean, these vets knew this was going to happen. And yes, this group typically votes Republican so it is their actions that got the R's into office, and it is those people who have caused this. Then the R's ask why it was shut down, like they didn't know it would be when they are the CAUSE of it being shut down. And all the while, Congress still gets paid. How ironic.

    October 1, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  8. Mad Dog Mike

    Outstanding !! HOOAH !!!

    October 1, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  9. Wendi

    Putting up gates and shutting off access to DC monuments is just plain grandstanding to make a point. There is no reason to do it. Yes, they might be closed and the buildings that need to be staffed are understandably closed BUT public areas? That is just plain wrong. Congrats to some common sense today. And it takes two idiots to fight. Both parties need to get their act together.

    October 1, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  10. Sherri

    Kind of funny. I mean, these vets knew this was going to happen. And yes, this group typically votes R so it is their actions that got the R into office, and it is those people who have caused this. Then the R's ask why it was shut down, like they didn't know it would be when they are the cause of it being shut down. And all the while, Congress still gets paid. How ironic.

    October 1, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  11. mom

    the government is closed but only when convenient and congress still gets paid

    October 1, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  12. eugene baldwin

    Obama and his party do know how to compromise, he is only powered by his own ego and legacy. He will go down in history as the great divider of this country. 62 Million americans did not vote for his second term nor Obamacare, he needs to understand that.

    October 1, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  13. Kathy

    Federal employees (Park rangers who run National Parks, others etc) CAN'T report to work. We are not allowed to even check our emails. We aren't supposed to use our government issued blackberries...nothing....no government work what so ever because we have been furloughed. We can actually get in trouble for trying to report to our facilities in we are not "excepted" from furloughs.These bozos know this so why on earth did they even think anyone would answer the phone! I would love to be at work right now and do my job (even if my pay was delayed) but would literally be turned away at the gate.
    I am so glad the security officers (not sure if they are federal employees or not but if they are they aren't being paid yet are still required to come to work) let them through. I heard Gingrich say last night that they shouldn't cave "just for a minor inconvenience to tourists". Seriously????? These people risk their lives, get shot at and so many other things but we are going to turn them away from a their own memorial! Our WWII vets are getting older everyday and we are losing them, they might not ever have another chance.
    But all because we can't just vote on a budget without some kind of rider on a law that has already passed, held up by the Supreme Court and Obama re-elected. Just sickening!

    October 1, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  14. GOP and PROUD of it !

    First and Foremost to all liberals !

    Do you even READ what the GOP wants from OBAMA ?

    For he and his family .... And The senate and The House to ALL have to take Obamacare insurance for themselves
    And their families.....but do you know they ALL went in and took a vote (within an hour), that they did NOT have to
    take it ... After reading all about it !!!

    Does that NOT tell you how BAD it is ? At least, TRY and FIGURE it out PLEASE! The GOP want THEM to have
    To take what Obama wants to shove down your throat ! FAIR is FAIR !!
    That ALONE "should" give anyone with a BRAIN a CLUE !!!!

    Secondly, The last time the gov shut down....was when another Liberal was president ! ....fooling around with
    Monica instead of paying attention to both our government OR the terrorism that was happening in other
    countries and at the FIRST bombing at the World Trade Center ! None other than shifty Bill Clinton !

    Thirdly, when you finally realize that former benefits from your employers, such as health insurance are NIL...
    And when you see MORE taxes coming out of you paycheck to PAY for OBamacare
    Blame THAT on your leader, Obama !
    So basically, in the future, you will earn LESS money and get NO benefits at work ..
    .....WELCOME to YOUR OBAMAworld

    Wake up .... And GET THE FACTS about the GOP before you go mouthing off like a bunch of idiots !

    And finally, remember

    American ...... Ends in 'I can'
    Republican ..... Ends in 'I can'
    Democrat ........Ends in 'rat'

    (you gotta love that)

    October 1, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  15. ARMYCSM

    Did they not know that it was a possibility that the government was shutting down today? I'm sure they did, yet they use this opportunity to amplify their alliance with all that is wrong for America. Why were republicants steve king and louie gohmert as well as michelle bachman suddenly on the grounds. Heroes yesterday, zeroes today; my how time and America is changing.

    October 1, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  16. Tom

    As a member of American Warriors an Honor Flight Organization the brings WWII Veterans to their memorials i find if offensive that the memorials would even think about closing. Since The WWII memorial is really a stand alone outside monument with no inside areas why would they ever think about blocking it off.

    Veterans i'm proud of your assault to access the monument!!!

    October 1, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  17. jim

    This story smells. Republican congressmen just happens to be close by and properly outraged tears down these fences. Michelle Bauchmann rushing over to lend a hand? Give me a break. It's more Tea Party vauldville

    October 1, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  18. noteasilyswayed

    The GOP will self destruct and it will be good for the country. These Tea Party ideologues need to be voted out in 2014 and 2016, and I will do my part to contribute to their being kicked out of office.

    October 1, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  19. patti

    get them out of office. Congress should be told to stay home without pay

    October 1, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  20. G H

    Good for the Vets. Old enough to know better but also old enough not to give a s**t.

    For those of you that continue to yell, out with the Repubs, please note that both sides are at fault. The Dems are just as much of a disgrace as the Repubs. They do not want to meet with the Repubs who are calling for a meeting unless they get their way. The Repubs are standing up for what they believe in. You want to be upset and mad at anyone look in the mirror because you voted them in there, either a Repub or Dem.

    BTW I am Independent and will NEVER vote for either party because both sides are a joke. They are there to do what is right for the people not for their party's interest.
    A two party system is failing the American way.

    October 1, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  21. rh

    Here's an idea – why not staff it with volunteers, namely the Representatives that aren't doing their jobs?

    October 1, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  22. Don

    Vote them all out of office. Lets start over with those that know than meaning of serve the People

    October 1, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  23. ArmyChickVet

    Bravo to them, this isn't about parties it's about the fact they deserve to see their memorial and if they can storm Normandy, Iwo Jima etc. do you think a barricade is going to stop them?

    October 1, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  24. rs

    John

    It seems like these congressmen have better things to be doing than walking around Washington... like maybe their jobs!?
    ____________________
    Republican Members of the House of Representatives have had no job beyond furthering their party since coming into office. The "people" are just an abstraction, and an obstruction to their higher needs- like Bachmann successfully getting another year of her "farm" subsidy.

    October 1, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  25. aallen333

    It's amazing! I went outside today and I didn't find anyone with any "sky" umbrellas. I guess it's because the sky's not falling.

    October 1, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
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