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. JHL

    Maybe Michelle and Louie can stick around and clean up the premises after the crowds leave. Freshen up those bathrooms, too. I think they are capable and it would their way of honoring the vets.

    And yes, by all means go into all the national parks. Don't get lost or hurt or need help as you'll have to fend for yourself.

    October 1, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  2. Nat Reader

    How did these Republican congressional people happen to be there at the moment this happened???? Grand standing for the news. If they want these memorials open then PASS A BUDGET!!! Yes, congress, it is SHUTDOWN and it is your fault. Why was there a barricade???? BECAUSE OF YOU! Dont grand stand like you were the saviors of keeping this momeorial open....jus leaves even more of a bad taste in my mouth for congress.

    October 1, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  3. airbornevet187

    Ridiculous. Wish the far right republicans were smart enough to think of this before hand...but how can anyone be surprised?

    October 1, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  4. Karen S

    Never underestimate a group of vets.

    As for closing the national parks. They are not self sufficient – It costs way more to maintain the parks than is brought in by fees.

    October 1, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  5. Marie

    They only shut down things that they think will have an impact on the people. They are not going to cut their pay off for dang sure. This is just a mini vacation for them all at our expense, so they can print more money ,and rob everyone blind. I'm sick of all of them,and wish they would just cancel their jobs while they are at it.

    October 1, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  6. SeeThruIt2

    BTW: The WW II memorial has no enclosures or buildings. It's a large open air memorial. It takes more money and time by the Park Police to barracade it than it does to just allow people to walk through.

    October 1, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  7. vtbikerider

    Any veteran is 100X the American any member of Congress is, and ever will be. Privates, Airmen, & Seamen do not get paid 174,000.00 a year while congresscritters do– it should be the opposite.

    October 1, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  8. Bustoff

    When are we going to do away with te 2 party system and have parties that will represent the American people and not the ideas of a specfic party or working for their next re-election. Between Both sides are wrong and shame on them for not working out a settlement long before this day has come. The american people suffer not these spolied kids in DC and that includes the president who is the worst leader of all and is doing nothiing but making it worse. I would think that great leaders such as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Kennedy would be speechless by the total lack of leadership in Washington right now. Any good organization, sports team, or work group takes on the traits of its leader...enough said. Time to Lead!!!

    October 1, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  9. potemkinrich

    I have the utmost respect for the women and men who fought in World War II. But should we not also be allowed enjoy and appreciate our beautiful Natural Parks and Monuments? They aren't, after all, amusement parks, but rather living examples what is the real "American Exceptionalism."

    October 1, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  10. katy

    Why are do we find the GOP out and about today–they are being paid as usual, unless they have taken a paid leave day. Hey you congress members, you are being pain remember that–a days work for a days pay OR go on furlough like you've made so many others do.

    October 1, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  11. Alas for the world

    Nice to see that not EVERY member of Congress has taken leave of their senses.

    October 1, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  12. jj

    Brilliant. I suspect there is more security onsite now, than when the exhibit is open. More tax dollars, well spent.
    I agree with another poster – most of these vets vote Republican. What DID they expect?
    The same goes for the exclusion of pay cuts for soldiers. Their pay and CARE should be raised. They are federal workers, and mostly vote republican. They should have to suffer for what they vote for, like the rest of the country will have to do.

    October 1, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  13. bella

    I agree, what was Michelle Bachman doing wandering around in plain clothes. She's on the clock and needs to be in the Capitol fixing this with the rest of her colleagues. Not surprising.

    October 1, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Ha!
    so they have no money to keep it open but they have money to pay the guards to stand there and say that it's closed...
    well played

    October 1, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  15. kim anderson

    well, the airhead Barbie Michelle Bachmann shows up out of thin air to "see what is going on and save the day" HAHAHAHAHA. She SHOULD be working at all of the memorials, taking tickets, or selling water somewhere along with all of her Teaparty pals.........at least then, before they get voted out of office into Neverland, they will be able to say they "did something worthwhile while they were in DC". A little expensive at their current salary rate, but better than getting nothing but Dr. Suess and Airhead nonsense for our hard earned tax dollars!

    October 1, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  16. FloridaGal

    Lets follow these Vets, and not only storm OUR national parks, but storm the White House, Congress, and the Senate! Let's get America BACK! This is still a free country, but not for long!! We need to TAKE THE UNITED STATES BACK!
    FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE!

    October 1, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  17. DON'T VOTE REPUB!!!!!!

    My husb. had to go to a hosp ER, out of five people waiting, he was the only one with medical coverage. No wonder a band aid costs $10 from the hosp., Those insured are paying for those who have no ins. Do I blame them? NO! it's not their fault. Now, here is an opportunity, let the American people decide whether this will work, remember they repealed Prohabition, so nothing is writ in stone. Tea-poopers have no right to force their agenda before WE THE PEOPLE decide.

    October 1, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  18. W.

    Its nice to see some factions of the Republican party and others in congress making an effort to keep parts of the U.S. government open. Thank you. Now, just return your bloated paychecks and we will be a little bit happier. One last thing, congress: GET A JOB...!

    October 1, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  19. katy

    Why do we find the GOP out and about today–they are being paid as usual, unless they have taken a paid leave day. Hey you congress members, you are being pain remember that–a days work for a days pay OR go on furlough like you've made so many others do.

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  20. rr

    Here in Texas, we will vote for every last one of the Good For Nothing Congressional Members out of office. They are all a disgrace to the Uniformed in this country and to the United States of America.

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  21. Steve

    If the reporting in the article is correct, then members of Congress are even more disconnected from reality than I realized. They shut things down and then are surprised by things being shut down? And while they're at the World War II Memorial, I suggest they take a moment to study it. Hopefully, they'll get a clue about one of its main themes...UNITY.

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  22. jamesbuie

    This is a joke the whole thing. Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame. The Democrats won't make any changes the house wants them on ObamaCare. People don't realize how much bad legislation is in that bill. There are a couple of good things that we should keep but most of it needs reformed. Boo on the Demorcrats for not making enough changes and not accepting that some of their legislation is awful!

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  23. Ric Potter

    OK I'll bite. The Democrat Party is disgraceful. Actually BOTH parties are disgraceful. As well as the POTUS.

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  24. Brian

    I hope the GOP will pay dearly for this at the next elections.

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  25. rr

    Wendy Davis for Governor of Texas!!!!!

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
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