Korean War veteran Robert Olson, from Iowa, is pushed in his wheelchair by Zach Twedt, also from Iowa, around the National World War II Memorial in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Veterans who had traveled from across the country were allowed to visit the National World War II Memorial after it had been officially closed because of the partial government shutdown. After their visit, the National World War II Memorial was closed again. The Lincoln Memorial is seen in the distance. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Veterans of World War II from Mississippi knocked down “government shutdown” barricades from around the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
The veterans entered the memorial on Tuesday morning around 11:30 a.m.
“Tons of applause as the WWII vets from Miss. storm their memorial,” reported Leo Shane II of Stars & Stripes. “No sign of folks leaving. The vets have control of the memorial.”
Park police responded to the situation but didn’t attempt to stop the veterans or others entering the memorial.
Wayne Lennep, a volunteer with the Mississippi Coast Guard Honor Flight group, said the trip had been planned for months for a group of 91 veterans as well as family members and escorts. Their chartered plane left Gulfport, Miss., on Tuesday morning.
The veterans were met at the memorial by Sen. Roger Wicker and Reps. Steven Palazzo, Alan Nunnelee and Gregg Harper, all Mississippi Republicans. Other elected officials joined as well. Lennep said Wicker and Palazzo have met the veterans on previous trips.
Palazzo told the Mississippi Press of Pascagoula that he moved the barricades.
“We cannot deprive our veterans of coming here,” Palazzo said of moving the barricades. “This is their day.
Rep. Michele Bachmann was out walking in her shorts and long-sleeved t-shirt when she got a panicked email from another member of Congress, she said. She came to the memorial and began taking pictures. Another lawmaker cut the tape, and the lawmakers escorted the veterans in, Bachmann said. Several lawmakers plan to continue coming to the memorial to ensure veterans can visit, she said.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Bachmann said. “It was big buses and a narrow strip of sidewalk, and there were all these veterans standing here behind police tape and they’re prevented from going in to see the memorial.”
Lennep said blocking off the memorial seemed excessive.
“I don’t really understand why they would have barricaded veterans out of their own memorial anyway,” he said. “If there are people there guarding it to keep people out, they could watch people as they visit.”
National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said park rangers enjoy greeting the veterans. The memorial was closed, she said, because of an order to close all park service grounds to protect the sites and keep visitors safe while more than 300 workers are furloughed.
“This is not something the park service wanted to do. We’d like to get back to work,” Johnson said.
The memorial is closed again, following the veterans’ departure.
While the veterans were at the memorial, people lauded their actions.
“This is the best civil disobedience we’ve seen in Washington in a while,” Congressman Bill Huizenga of Michigan told the Gulf Live.
Veteran Robert Meredith of Wiggins said, “I thought I was going to have to stand back when we first got here. I feel extremely lucky. This is really nice, a great honor.”
The vets laid a wreath at the Mississippi pillar that’s part of the memorial.
Congressman Steve King of Iowa initially distracted a park police officer while veterans and staffers knocked down the fence barricades, according to Shane.
The veterans are with the The Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, which is a nonprofit honoring the service of World War II vets.
The organization’s mission, according to its website, is to fly Mississippi’s World War II vets to Washington D.C. free of charge “to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their comrades.”
The vets reportedly later left the memorial and moved on to the Air Force memorial, which wasn’t barricaded.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.