WWII Memorial opened to vets


The National Park Service opened the World War II Memorial Wednesday to veterans visiting from around the country.

Carol Johnson, a National Parks Service spokeswoman, said the veterans groups had been granted access Wednesday because it was deemed a First Amendment demonstration.

The memorial was still closed to the public, however, and Johnson said other war memorials on the National Mall would also be closed.

But veterans could be seen visiting the Vietnam War Memorial about a half mile away.

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The memorials were closed and barricaded because of the government shutdown that began Tuesday.

Veterans arriving at the World War II Memorial Tuesday encountered barriers, which were moved at some point so that they could enter the memorial. It’s not clear if they were moved by the Park Service or lawmakers who were present.

On Wednesday, the Park Service allowed the veterans groups to enter and exit in an orderly manner from the south side of the memorial. Veterans from Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and other states were on a tour arranged by Honor Flight, an organization that arranges the tours for veterans across the country.

The memorial was surrounded by dozens of onlookers who applauded the veterans as they entered and exited the memorial, and lawmakers were also on hand Wednesday to greet the veterans.

Some of the same Republicans who were there Tuesday, such as Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), were back again Wednesday, as well as lawmakers from both parties who had constituents on the tours.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was one of the Democrats there Tuesday to greet a group from Kansas City. She accused Republicans of turning the situation into a political stunt.

“They’re trying to play politics. Politics on veterans is bad manners,” McCaskill said.

Republicans, however, said it was the Democrats who were keeping the park closed by voting against a House bill Tuesday to reopen the national parks.

Republicans have seized on the parks issue, suggesting the White House is putting up the barricades to make the shutdown deliberately painful.

“We voted to open up these national parks for the American people and, particularly, for our veterans. Unfortunately our colleagues on the other side of the aisle — including a number of members of the veterans committee — voted against allowing veterans to do that,” said Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas).

Democrats and the administration have responded by blaming Republicans for shutting down the government and denying funding to the Park Service by not allowing a vote on a clean stopgap funding measure.

White House press secretary Jay Carney accused Republicans of grandstanding.

"The fact is, when you shut down the government, you shut down a lot of services," Carney said.

The White House spokesman said Republican lawmakers who acted "as if they were surprised" that the monument would shut down "clearly didn't pay attention." He said that if critical lawmakers "spent half that time on the floor of the House voting" against a shutdown, the monuments would remain accessible.

"Some of the most vocal critics of this particular matter were quoted saying, 'We got what we wanted,'" Carney said.

Some Republicans said they hoped the bipartisan turnout at the memorial could help pass the piecemeal bills to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Park Service.

“I hope things like this can bring us together,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.). “We’re standing here with our Democratic members from the Senate and the House. And I hope they’ll be willing to stand with us tonight as we open up these monuments.”

The World War II veterans who arrived at the monument this week had been planning on making the visit for months.

They said they were happy that lawmakers helped them see the memorial, but they had harsh words for members of both parties allowing the shutdown to occur.

“I think it’s the damndest thing I ever heard of,” Kansas City resident Bob Hines, 92, said of the shutdown. “I think the government is so screwed up that they’re ruining a helluva good country.”

Bo Bohannon, 88, told the lawmakers greeting him at the memorial that he was happy to see them out there on the sunny day.

“I like seeing politicians sweat,” he told the lawmakers.

Bohannon, who is visiting Washington from Overland Park, Kan., said that both parties were at fault for the shutdown.

“I think it’s a hill of beans,” the former Army engineer said. “I just blame them for not being able to get together. I think they’re both equal.”

The World War II Memorial and other open-air monuments are generally open 24 hours a day.

With the government shut down, however, barricades were posted Tuesday morning. The Park Service explained that the memorials were closed and that there would not be people on hand in case someone was injured while visiting a memorial.

The Parks Service was still not allowing the general public to enter the memorial, although that was being loosely enforced as people streamed in and out past the removed barricade.

Protesters were also on hand outside the monument yelling at the lawmakers to leave.

“Shame on Congress! Go back to the Capitol!” one shouted. “This is not about you. Let veterans enjoy the memorial.”

Honor Flight had three tour groups scheduled to visit Wednesday, another two Thursday and one Friday.

If the government is still shutdown Saturday, there will be a host of veterans converging on the National Mall and the World War II Memorial, as eight different Honor Flight groups are slated for tours.

— This story was first posted at 12:12 p.m. and has been updated.

Justin Sink contributed.