October 1st, 2013
12:26 PM ET
9 years 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.

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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. Ross

    I'm surprised that the police did not arrest them all (since they are mindless robots these days). The current Gestapo police must have known that this would have been bad press. However, anyone else, on any other day, would have been arrested and fully prosecuted (even though the jury trial would cost thousands of dollars to the government).

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    It mentions a slow down....explain slow down to creditors. Everyone in Congress should not receive another vote. Please GOD, let us have term llimits. Stop giving your money/attention to party's. We elected these people to think for themselves, not what their parties think. Shameful what is being done to VETS.

    October 1, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  3. Nat Reader

    "Moments earlier, 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."

    These members just HAPPENED to be there....and I got swamp land....

    Hey congress....if you really would do anything to keep it open, how about just pass a budget bill and argue about the ACA on another day?

    Grand standing at a memorial doe nothing for me except to see that these members are still just pandering for votes.

    This next election I am voting out EVERY congressional representative from my state. I could care less what party they are. They are all a poor example

    October 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. bryahlstrand@hotmail.com

    Yeah, back then the overwhelming majority were not GOP. Though vets probably from Mississippi and Ala type state were. The GOP just caused the Great Depression and the country then voted for Roosevelt for 3 terms. Then Truman won after that.
    Next republican to win was Eisenhower which really was a democrat in today's terms at least. So the next "real" republican was Nixon who of course was horrible.

    October 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  5. Rosi

    Both parties are disgraceful. Guilt runs deep on both sides of the aisle. They're all a bunch of crooks and cowards and ne'er-do-wells who make themselves rich by digging in our pockets. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS. Whoops, wait, they would never miss what they never use.

    October 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  6. Hadenuffyet

    "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."

    Welcome to the 21st century world of voice prompts and runarounds.

    October 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  7. jamesbuie

    Oh please! Boo on the democrats for not willing to make any changes to their horrible legislation called Obamacare. There are a few good things but this is mostly bad for our country.

    October 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  8. Silence DoGood

    This is just an outpouring of the disgust The People (remember them?) feel about most politicians. I say next elections local or otherwise – KICK them ALL out and start with some new parties. The one-party system (Dem-Repub club) has failed us.

    October 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  9. cknople

    I would rather see live footage from inside this memorial and others that our citizens decide to visit despite the 'barricades' than to see anyone with an R or D next to their names on TV complaining about what the other side will or will not do.

    October 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  10. Eric B

    these men broke the law and are tresspassing they need to be arrested for their actions.

    October 1, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  11. Viva America

    It's a great time in America when, if you feel like it break the rules, it really shows the children that when the government closes something temporarily, you break the rules to get what you want.

    October 1, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  12. ML

    WOW – what a short-term memory these congress people have. Harking – you can't get hold of anybody on the phone at Parks Dept – no kidding – you shut them down. Bachmann, you ask- "who would say No to a WWII veteran?" – obviously You, when you couldn't agree on a way to keep the government, that these vets fought to preserve, working. You're indignant? Really

    October 1, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  13. Tony T

    obama these are the men and women that made America.....you have disgraced then and ALL Americans by your denial that American's are an "exceptional" people. I dare you to come out and face them and and tell them they are not "exceptional" they have proved it again!! Open up the gov't.....stop obama care!!!

    October 1, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  14. cknople

    I will never vote for a republican or democrat again, both are disgraceful and neither do their jobs for the will of the people anymore. It is vital we take back this nation and if that means that others political parties rise up, then so be it.

    Ballot language: R or D – keep looking...

    October 1, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  15. Dan

    Hello! I am your Congressman. I voted to close down this park. Now I am mad that no one is allowed entry! Someone should do something about this!

    October 1, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  16. Hadenuffyet

    Close the memorial? The only workers around are security and occasionally, custodial , how much effort is it to leave it open. Nobodies going to haul off a 10 ton block of rock...lol

    October 1, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  17. Lee Ann

    Love it!! You Guys and Gals ROCK AND ROLL!!!! Many thanks to our veterans. Kudos to Harkin. Kudos to the guys who removed the fence. Kudos to Honor Flight. Kudos to the piper. Kudos to Ms. Johnson. Kudos to the security officers who willingly stood aside. What's the word of the day?? KUDOS!!

    October 1, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  18. Tim Wilson

    No problem with the veterans entering the memorial, but the congressmen who led the way ought to be arrested.

    October 1, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  19. sfg

    Censorship is unbecoming in a "news" gathering organization.

    October 1, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  20. Ben

    This is a perfect example of nonviolent civil disobedience. I wish I could have been there personally to participate.

    Bully to the veterans for peacefully marching into the memorial, and for the security guards who had enough sense to not get in their way. If only Congress were as sensible as these individuals, we might not be in this spot today.

    October 1, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  21. Whome

    You would have me believe that a bunch of 80 to 90 year old veterans stormed past barricades and security, doesn't say much for National Security does it, what did they threaten them with their canes and wheel chairs. Yet another bogus story from CNN.

    October 1, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  22. Trevor D Hitchin

    Mr. Speaker, you do not speak for me. I speak for me.

    There will never be another Republican President in the United States because of your actions, your obstruction, your destruction and now.....your mistake.

    Today you killed your party and brought tears to my eyes with this article.

    Johnny, your ego got the best of you and you will be judged harshly and swiftly.

    God Save America, today not tomorrow (T-n-T).

    October 1, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  23. Ken

    Those who want to blame this mess on one party obviously has been drinking to much grape koolaid. Most of you young and dumb do not remember when the congress shut the Government down for 12 days over their pay raise. This issue will change EVERYTHING. Once you go ACA you do not go back. So when the Republicans finally cave in... The Dems will own the failure. Then the republicans will sit back and say "uh huh.... Can't Bush and the Republicans for this mess". It will be only a matter of time.. Say no more then 2 years when folk are gonna say..... OHHHHH Sh|t they were right.

    October 1, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  24. Bob

    Hey idiots, maybe you should create a budget. Both sides complain that the parks are closed right after they voted to not pay the people who staff the park. You can't have it both ways. Goods and services cost money as people are not expected to work for free. So if you want your government services, I don't know, How about start paying your workers.

    October 1, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  25. sfg

    Most transparent administration in history....
    ....just don't admit the fact and it doesn't exist.

    October 1, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
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