On the first day of the government shutdown, World War II veterans were greeted at the nation’s capital by metal barricades, police tape and National Park Service employees to prevent them from visiting the open-air World War II Memorial on the Mall.
And they responded as Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe did at Bastogne, with a collective “Nuts!” to the federal functionaries. Or they might as well have, by their action.
The veterans, in their 80s and 90s, breached the barriers and advanced into the Memorial. Some moved with canes and walkers, others in wheelchairs. Abashed Park Service employees stepped aside.
It was the most inspiring moment in the capital in recent memory.
The group came from Mississippi as part of an Honor Flight. Sponsors paid $80,000 for the trip, planned well in advance of the shutdown.
The supposed reason for the barricades was that the monument could not be staffed because of the shutdown. On Tuesday morning, the Washington Examiner counted seven Park Service employees erecting barriers at the site. When asked why the closures were being carried out, officials responded that they were just following orders.
When Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., requested an exception for the veterans, he was told by officials at the Interior Department and the White House that it was not possible because of the government shutdown. A Park Service spokesman told The Washington Post that the agency was worried about protecting the park site.
In this case the vandals are on the government payroll. Imagine, trying to stop American veterans from visiting public, open-air war memorials honoring their service. On any day.
And it happened at the Korean War Veterans Memorial as well. There a group of Puerto Rican vets were met by barricades and a Park Service official who told them the site was closed.
Those veterans, too, resolutely pushed back the barriers to lay a wreath at the memorial, also on the Mall, in honor of their fallen comrades.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., typically blamed Republicans, because of the government shutdown.
But clearly the administration was trying to add a touch of drama to the situation, by enforcing a closure where none was warranted or needed. Call it a variation of the “Big Bird effect.” When funding cuts are forced, the first to suffer are the most visible, popular beneficiaries.
Meanwhile, House Democrats blocked Republican bills Tuesday to restore funding for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, national parks and the D.C. government. White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage called the measures “not serious,” saying “if these bills were to come to the president’s desk he would veto them.”
On Wednesday, President Obama met with top congressional leaders on the shutdown, though first reiterating his position that he wouldn’t negotiate with Republicans. Why, then, call a meeting?
If it was to dramatize the situation, the president would be hard pressed to surpass the drama Tuesday at the war memorials on the Mall.
On Wednesday, the Park Service relented and opened access to the memorials. Score another victory for our veterans.
Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans would do well to consider the words of 88-year old Percy Scarborough of Petal, Miss., who fought on Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944.
“Why would they close something like this? Why would they close Washington? Damned folks can’t get along,” he told the Post.
“I think we ought to take them all and send them home. Get a new group, if they can’t work together.”