Veterans storm park barricades amid shutdown
By Robert Macpherson, AFPWASHINGTON--Compared to defeating Nazi Germany and the Japanese empire, storming the National World War II Memorial was a piece of cake for a hardy column of octogenarian U.S. military veterans.
October 3, 2013, 12:11 am TWN
With help from a Congressional delegation, the 200-strong Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight slipped through a barricade Tuesday to savor the grandeur of the nation's premier memorial to the 1939-45 conflict.
“We didn't come this far not to get in,” sniffed one of the elderly veterans, quoted by the Stars and Stripes military newspaper, who defied U.S. Park Police orders not to enter the grounds.
The memorial to the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II, and to the more than 400,000 who died, was among the iconic tourist landmarks up and down the National Mall closed to the public by the shutdown.
It is normally open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On Tuesday, it was ringed by grey steel barricades and yellow police tape, and its fountains were switched off, until the vets turned up in yellow and red T-shirts, riding wheelchairs and wielding canes.
In the United States, honor flights are charities that cover the cost of transporting veterans to the nation's capital to tour war memorials in the sunset years of their lives.
Some 700 veterans came to Washington last weekend alone, and 10 groups are expected this week, said Patrick McCourt, a former U.S. army officer who now volunteers to welcome fellow vets making the pilgrimage to the Mall.
National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the Mississippi group's permit to visit the World War II memorial was revoked when it appeared the government would shut down — but the vets came anyway.
“They've come a long way,” acknowledged Johnson, who herself got a letter Tuesday informing her that, as a “non-essential” civil servant, she was being furloughed without pay.
With the barricades open, and the National Park Service figuring out whether to close them again, a trickle of tourists wandered onto the World War II memorial grounds later Tuesday — a gaggle of Chinese visitors here, some individual American veterans there.
This Sept. 15 image released by the Brooklyn Academy of Music shows, foreground from left, Sarah Coomes, Robert Brubaker and Sarah Joy Miller in a scene from “Anna Nicole,” ...