Normandy this was definitely not, but a busload of elderly veterans this morning briefly grabbed the shutdown spotlight when they managed to visit the shuttered World War II Memorial. Exactly how they overcame the barricades and eluded park police who were enforcing the shutdown-forced closure remains somewhat up for debate—but despite a few early reports suggesting that the group “stormed” the monument on the Washington Mall, it appears as though this was mostly a peaceful and respect-filled affair.
Here’s CNN with the details from the scene:
Busloads of World War II veterans, many in wheelchairs, broke past a barricade Tuesday to cross into the World War II Memorial, as onlookers applauded and a man playing the bagpipes led the way. … [A] spokeswoman from the Park Service said efforts were no longer being made to hold anyone back, and security officers could easily be seen standing aside. “These are important visitors,” she told reporters, adding that they’re seeking guidance from the director’s office on “where we go next.”
An unnamed U.S. Park Police officer told a similar story to the Washington Post. “I’m not going to enforce the no stopping or standing sign for a group of 90 World War II veterans,” the officer said. “I’m a veteran myself.” A spokesman for the veterans group, meanwhile, suggested that Rep. Steven Palazzo, the Mississippi Republican who greeted the veterans, was the one who actually “opened the barricade” to let the vets through after speaking with the park officers.
“We didn’t have a definite plan, so we knew we were going to come here and just see what was going on and if we were going to be able to go in,” Jen Walton, the secretary of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, told Talking Points Memo over the phone.
The back story: The group of 90 or so veterans—ranging in ages between 84 to 98—are in the nation’s capitol for a visit that was planned before Congress forced the current government shutdown. The WWII memorial was one of the main attraction’s on their itinerary but the outdoor monument was closed down this morning by the National Park Service, which no longer has the staff necessary to keep the monument open thanks Congress’s most recent failure.
Here’s a few pics from some reporters on the scene:
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Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the government shutdown.