Few images scream “government shutdown” louder than those of barricades erected around the monuments that line the Mall, but it was such a sight that prompted a bit of commotion today at the World War II Memorial. A group of veterans in from Mississippi got loudly upset when they arrived at the site to find themselves blocked out, and staged what might be the first protest of the shutdown.
The veterans came in on an “honor flight,” a chartered trip that brings elderly former soldiers to visit the stately memorial to a war they fought in more than six decades ago. And seeing it closed off, as all National Park Service sites are, was enough to spark some unrest from the crowd, which included several wheelchair-bound participants.
In defiance of the notices posted to the fences, they started pushing through the barricades as US Park Police officers stood to the side. A few members of Congress—Mississippi Republican Steven Palazzo and Iowa Republican Steve King, who reportedly distracted one of the police officers—showed up and helped usher the veterans through.
While the war heroes eventually made it in, the World War II Memorial, like the other monuments on the Mall, is still legally closed. And unless Congress can pass an emergency bill authorizing funding for the site, or, say, the entire government, similar scenes could play out in the days ahead. More honor flights are scheduled for nearly every day this month, and the head of the association that organizes the trips is worried the 3,500 WWII veterans set to visit will meet metal gates when they arrive.
“They’ve been waiting six and a half decades,” Jim McLaughlin, the chairman of Honor Flight, tells Washingtonian. “This is no doubt their one and only chance to see the memorial dedicated to them. To have them travel and not get in. . . .”
McLaughlin adds that many of the veterans, who are in their late eighties, are terminally ill. October is one of the bigger months for his organization, with charter flights costing as much as $80,000. The House is taking up a bill tonight authorizing emergency funding to reopen the monuments, but McLaughlin says “nothing is resolved yet.” Four veterans’ groups from as far away as New Mexico are due to visit the World War II Memorial tomorrow.
Watch video of today’s encounter courtesy of the Biloxi, Miss. Sun-Herald.