Verice Bennett, left, and Hunter Lipscomb welcome veteran Oscar L. Russell to the World War II Memorial on Oct. 1 during a visit organized by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight in Washington, D.C.
(Photo: Jared Soares for USA TODAY)
(USA TODAY) They fought a war and flew in at dawn from Mississippi, so a few barricades provoked little more than shrugs from the 91 World War II veterans who crossed political lines Tuesday to walk and wheel around their memorial on the historic National Mall in Washington.
The vets in three buses pulled up to the Memorial at 11:20 a.m. and were greeted by a group of congressmen who said they were determined to ensure the vets from the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight would have the full experience of the monument.
With the vets in their red shirts and medal-bedecked caps lined up at the barricades, the congressmen, led by Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., moved aside the barriers and escorted the vets into the memorial and past signs that read: Because of federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed.
The vets, led by a volunteer bagpiper Bill Greener of the D.C Fire Department who played patriotic songs, strolled around the memorial and posed for photos as U.S. Park Police and Park Service rangers looked on.
National Park Service spokeswoman stood by as the congressmen moved the barriers and walked onto the site. It is up to the U.S. park police to enforce the closure.
"This is so meaningful to the vets," Carol Johnson said. "The main thing is we'd like to get back to work and welcome visitors again."
The federal government shutdown that began at midnight did not exempt the National Park Service. The National Mall and Memorial's 330 employees are furloughed. Only three employees are exempt: the chief of maintenance, the deputy superintendent and the project manager who is overseeing the repairs to the Washington Monument, Johnson said. The repairs we continue through the shutdown since Congress had already approved the money for it, she said.
Park Service employees came to work Tuesday to erect the barriers and turn off the fountains. It will take them through tomorrow to fully close all the federal parks and sites under their jurisdiction, Johnson said. After that, no maintenance people or park rangers are permitted to work, she said. Johnson was working off the clock on Monday afternoon.
Donna Leinwand Leger, USA TODAY