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Republicans tear down gates to World War II Memorial

Rep.+Michele+Bachmann%2C+R-Minn.%2C+shows+a+veteran+the+%E2%80%9Cdo+not+cross%E2%80%9D+tape+she+tore+down+to+allow+the+veterans+inside+the+World+War+II+Memorial.+The+memorial+has+been+barricaded+by+fences+and+the+tape+since+the+government+shutdown+started+on+Tuesday.+
SHFWire photo by Nick Prete
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., shows a veteran the “do not cross” tape she tore down to allow the veterans inside the World War II Memorial. The memorial has been barricaded by fences and the tape since the government shutdown started on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON – How many Republicans does it take to tear down a fence? Apparently quite a few.

About a dozen senators and representatives, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.,  welcomed veterans from the Honor Flight program to the World War II Memorial Wednesday by helping move the fences that barricaded it.

Honor Flight is a program that sends veterans to their monuments in Washington for free with the help of sponsors and fundraisers.

“A person who has lived their life and gone to war for this country, you’re not going to let them see an open-air exhibit except from behind barricades? That’s dishonorable for us to do,” Rep. John Carter,  R-Texas, said.

The group ripped off the bright yellow “do-not-cross” tape and pushed open the gates in plain sight of National Park Service officials.

“The memorial is closed. We’re asking people to cooperate,” Carol Johnson, spokeswoman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks Service, said.

William Szych, of Alexandria, Va., holds an American flag in front of the barriers surrounding the Memorial. Behind him the fountains of the World War II and the Lincoln memorials sit dormant as a result of the government shutdown.
William Szych, of Alexandria, Va., holds an American flag in front of the barriers surrounding the Memorial. Behind him the fountains of the World War II and the Lincoln memorials sit dormant as a result of the government shutdown.

The National Park Service can’t arrest anyone for going through the barriers because the National Park Police handles enforcement. But the Park Police were nowhere to be seen, allowing the veterans to get inside and experience their memorial, despite the barricades.

“We thought there’d be a good chance, since there are all these congressmen down here,” said Taylor Hess, 88, a World War II veteran from Leawood, Kan., who served as a medic in the Army in Europe.

“I know they want to be elected. We appreciate them coming out, though,” he said.

Some veterans had a message they wanted to get across to Congress.

“Why can’t they get together and do something?” said Gaza Bodner, 92, of St. Louis, who served on a Navy aquatic landing craft in World War II. “They’re just fighting one another – they’re not thinking about the real issues.”

Other visitors had a more concrete plan for how they wanted the barriers taken down.

“We need a permanent law that makes these places exempt from the budget issues. That’s the only acceptable solution,” said William Szych, 60, of Alexandria, Va., who was at the memorial representing his father, a combat Marine in World War II who survived four amphibious assaults but died before he got the chance to see the memorial.

“This is not right. It’s an absolute disgrace this is even happening,” Szych said.

Even if they hadn’t gotten in today, the veterans would still have received a welcome from members of Congress and the press, who were waiting when the buses pulled up.

A few veterans gained access Tuesday more or less on their own.

“What I appreciate the most is the people here greeting us. When I went through New York to get discharged, you know what we had greeting us? The Red Cross with a little carton of milk. That’s all we had,” Bodner said.

After the barriers were broken through, the National Mall and Memorial Park Service decided that it was allowed.

“The Honor Flights are being granted access to the World War II Memorial as a First Amendment activity in accordance with National Parks Service regulations,” Johnson said.

Johnson could not comment about whether groups that are not affiliated with Honor Flight will be allowed on the World War II Memorial premises.

Nick Prete is a junior multimedia journalism major. He is currently participating in the Scripps Howard Foundation Semester in Washington program. He may be reached at [email protected].

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Republicans tear down gates to World War II Memorial