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. notogop

    John Boehner should be voted out as Speaker of the House. He has no clout in his own disfunctional party. He seems afraid to or unable to control even a small part of his party. How can he be relied on to run a whole chamber of Congress?

    October 1, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  2. brad

    Actually, no one has the right to be on federally owned land since the government shurt down. Its like not paying your landscaper and then asking why he didn't clip your hedges...

    October 1, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  3. HM8432

    Those brown-shirted NPS rangers must have been quaking in their boots when those vets who earned their freedoms for them bum-rushed the WWII memorial...I can almost hear them yelling "Stop! You will RESPECT my authority!" Nazi losers.

    October 1, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  4. rh

    And as for "elitist way of life", my father fought in WWII and went to college on the GI Bill. He went from a kid on Relief to a middle class adult able to pay to raise his family and even go on some nice vacations. So perhaps he was one of the elitists he was protecting.

    October 1, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  5. Jonathan

    I can not believe the Republican Party...just what is wrong with those people? Like a bunch of immature Kids throwing a tantrum about funding a bill that was passed months ago. Get a life and start being a part of the solution!

    October 1, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  6. yo

    Chants of remember "iwojima" while they're storming the memorial.

    October 1, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    "Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, wearing casual clothes, said she was out walking when she heard about the pile-up at the memorial and decided to hustle over to the site."
    -------------------------------–
    It's Government Shutdown, Day One. Does anyone seriously believe that Tea Party hero Michelle Bachmann would actually show her face in public by merely walking down the street? I don't. I think she saw an opportunity to be in front of cameras again.

    October 1, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  8. Daryl

    No one else see’s the irony that the very folks from Congress (both R and D) that allowed this closure to occur are there complaining about it. Go back to work and sort this out Congress.

    October 1, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  9. FrmrMrine

    I thought they wanted to shut down the federal government. Did they think that only meant the things that other people find useful? So, when the Republicans stood on the steps of congress and screamed that they were going to shut down the government, what did people think would happen?

    October 1, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  10. Dave RT

    @Tampa Tim

    Be quite you little sheep. I hope these vets don't live to see the Democratic party drag this country down their liberal drain.

    October 1, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  11. American by Birth

    OMGoodness, people!!! So many of you sound as ignorant as the Democrats AND Republicans think you are! Blame it on the Republicans... Blame it on the Democrats... Oh My Dear Goodness... so what if Michelle Bachman showed up in casuals clothes... where are the rest of them... sleeping in??? At least she is up and out. What We The People need to do is stop shouting at each other because we don't agree with each other. The beauty of being an American is we have the freedom of choice. So what if you are a Democrat... so what if you are a Republican... What you all need to be upset and shouting about is that we've all been screwed over equally!!! Congress could care less about us... all they care about is winning their own respective argument. If their goal is to divide this country, guess what... they're doing it and we are allowing it to happen.

    October 1, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  12. WIdow

    Tampa Tim: I hate to disagree with you. My father a WWII vet would never vote anything but democrat. My husband changed his mind after the Nixon debacle.

    October 1, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  13. Chuck

    How ironic that members of the party responsible for the shutdown was there to open the gates.

    October 1, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  14. chiavarm

    Shut it DOWN! About time the GOP starts fighting. The park closure is a government ploy. The park service employees are there to keep people out, to create outrage!

    Ted Cruz for president 2016!

    October 1, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  15. Jules

    John Boehner is the most useless Speaker of the House ever. This is the character question to the GOP – do you have the moral character to do the right thing and stand up to the idiots in your party and risk getting a primary challenge from the Tea Party in order to do the right thing for the country? If you don't, then you don't have the moral character to hold any position in leadership anywhere. They are the most self centered bunch of human beings ever. They don't care about the people thrown out of work, they don't care if millions and millions of people are uninsured, they don't care about the children of this country – they care only whether or not they get a primary challenge. How pitiful!

    October 1, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  16. Mike

    Right, because anyone who doesn't or hasn't been in the military is automatically a coward. This is a pretty thinly veiled attempt by politicians to say "Look at me, I stand behind America" while they screw over the very country they claim to love.

    October 1, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  17. Grady

    Why wait for the mid terms...maybe it is time for some recall votes...

    October 1, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  18. Unknown

    There are no veterans in my family because my family is all educated.

    October 1, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  19. Govt Worker

    The hypocrisy of the GOP is out of control. The government is shutdown due to the inability of Congress to pass a CR or budget. I was sent home today, unable to access my office and, unable to hold significant work events due to Congress. They should have to feel the pain and inconvenience of a government shutdown. They didn't do their job, I can't do mine, and neither can the NPS.

    October 1, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  20. JS Shaver

    "Who would say no to them?" ... All of Congress did when they failed to do their jobs! Officially according to the paperwork that "Johnson" signed this morning, she is not allowed to "volunteer her time" and can now face penalty for doing so. I volunteered to work during the shutdown as a support member to keep our soldiers safe and was told that was not possible. Veterans stand up for your rights???? How about "AMERICANS stand up for your rights!" and demand the Congressmen that we elected do their job or leave??

    October 1, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  21. mark Soloman

    And the Democratic Party is full of saints and Robinhoods, Right!, they passed ombamaCare without even knowing what is in the bill,
    Give me a blank Goverment check and once I cash it I will tell you what I spent it on, yea they are really the "smart party"

    October 1, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  22. SeeThruIt2

    Republicans are not running the Dept of Interior. That's run by Obama and his minions.

    Senator Harkin is just trying to blame Republicans, when Obama has ordered his people to put on this show of inconvenience.

    October 1, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  23. NCCaniac42

    Rep. Bachmann totally missed the point.. .AGAIN. It is the FAULT of HER CRAZY wing of the GOP that caused this 'slow down' 'shut down' whatever

    October 1, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  24. baffledbyyourignorance

    I just watched some footage of Michelle B. & the reps. coming out of a closed door meeting all smiles & thumbs up & proud about the fact that they just voted to shut down the gov. Now she's actually out there trying show some kind of support for the vets after she & her party voted to shut down the memorial. Bachman & Palin are two of the main reasons why the reps. are considered the "party of stupid". How bad can it be when members of your own party are calling the party stupid. Oh well... I think they pretty much shot themselves in the foot. There won't be a rep. potus for a long time.

    October 1, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  25. churchstate

    I hear all these things about how the GOP is irresponsible or out for themselves,etc...

    Then vote them out!

    Why do we keep ending up with all these jokers? Don't worry, in about a month when this blows over people will go back to voting their core issues of abortion, guns and the bible.

    October 1, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
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