WASHINGTON — Busloads of World War II veterans, many in wheelchairs, broke past a barricade Tuesday to cross into the World War II Memorial, as onlookers applauded and a man playing the bagpipes led the way.
The National Park Service closed all of its parks, including national memorials, as a result of the federal government shutdown that went into effect at 12:01 a.m ET.
But a spokeswoman from the Park Service said efforts were no longer being made to hold anyone back, and security officers could easily be seen standing aside.
“These are important visitors,” she told reporters, adding that they’re seeking guidance from the director’s office on “where we go next.”
Some Republican members of Congress and a Democratic senator were on site, blasting the federal government for fencing off the memorial. Outraged and baffled, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, crossed through an opening in the fenced-off area earlier in the morning-before the breach–and got on the phone to try and reach the secretary of the Department of Interior.
“I don’t get it. I’m furious. I’m trying to get a hold of people,” he said, standing on the other side of the barricade and looking around for help. “But I can’t seem to get a hold of anybody.”
Harkin faulted Republicans for what he called their “nonsense” the legislative back-and-forth that led to the shutdown.
“Obviously I can walk here,” Harkin said, as he walked through the barricade. “Why can’t I walk there?” he added, as he pointed at the memorial
A few House Republicans were also at the memorial to disparage the government for closing off the landmark on a day that veterans were set to arrive.
“We’ve got park service employees out here,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. “Why wouldn’t you have them here to allow the veterans in, instead of stand and keep them from coming in?”
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, wearing casual clothes, said she was out walking when she heard about the pile-up at the memorial and decided to hustle over to the site.
“Who’s going to say no to a World War II veteran? I certainly wouldn’t,” Bachmann said.
“America is not shutting down,” she also said, pointing to the veterans.
Rep. Steve King of Iowa argued this should be considered a “slow down,” not a “shutdown.”
“This isn’t Republicans vs. Democrats, this is about our veterans,” another member of Congress said.
Most of the veterans who arrived at the World War II memorial came courtesy of nonprofit programs, including Honor Flight Network, that transport the aging men and women to Washington.