WASHINGTON — The veterans piled off the chartered buses in front of the World War II Memorial, some in wheelchairs, some using canes, all determined to pay homage to each other and their fallen comrades from more than half a century ago.
Metal barricades and signs about a closure caused by the shutdown of the federal government awaited them.
The graying and stooped men surged forward, accompanied by members of Congress — the same lawmakers who, hours earlier, had triggered a government shutdown by failing to pass a budget resolution.
A shout went up. The barricades had been moved — it was unclear by whom.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he believed the Park Service opened the gates. Rep Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., said the congressmen did it. Rep. Steven M. Palazzo, R-Miss., said the barricades just seemed to part.
“I’m not going to enforce the ‘no stopping or standing’ sign for a group of 90 World War II veterans,” said a U.S. Park Police officer, who declined to give his name. “I’m a veteran myself.”
The veterans, from Mississippi, were visiting the memorial on the National Mall of as part of an honor flight program. They had chartered an $80,000 airplane, and their plans were too far advanced to postpone when the government shut down, said Wayne Lennep, spokesman for the Mississippi Gulf Coast honor flights.
And they were not the only old soldiers determined to claim their small piece of the nation’s capital, even on a day when the federal government seemed to have let them — and the rest of the country — down.
At the Korean War Memorial, a group of veterans from Puerto Rico also moved barricades aside in order to lay a wreath. The veterans represented members of the 65th Army regiment, which fought in Korea.