Several members of Congress on Tuesday morning cut police tape and removed concrete barricades
set up by the U.S. National Park Service to allow 91 World War II veterans, arriving from Mississippi on Honor Flights, to visit their memorial on the Mall.
The federal memorial had been closed amid the government shutdown but lawmakers were having nothing of it, said former Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who was there along with an empowered group of passersby who chanted, "Let them in, let them in," and applauded as the barriers were removed.
Hoekstra said to their credit, security did not intervene as many veterans in wheelchairs made what will likely be their final and only trip to see a memorial honoring their service.
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Among those members of Congress on hand to help the vets get in were Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Republican Reps. Bill Huizenga of Michigan, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, and Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, who organized the intervention and had circulated a friendly memo to his colleagues asking them to come out to prevent a blockage to make sure the vets' trip was not in vain, The Mississippi Press reports
"I was told their leadership told them not to do it," Hoekstra told Newsmax by phone of the effort. "It would step on their messaging. But that's the bigger lesson for today. Just go out and do the right thing. And this was the right thing to do."
Hoekstra praised the park officers who didn't stop the group from entering. "They accepted this act of civil disobedience by these congressmen and didn't try to make a scene," he said.
Watching the vets enter was "emotional," he said.
"This memorial took too long to build," Hoekstra added. "But this is one of those days that makes you feel good. Heaven knows politicians get enough blame these days, but these folks had the courage to come down here, challenge the establishment and get it resolved."
Members of Congress greeted the Honor Flight vets
at the airport around 11:20 a.m. and then joined then as they made their way to the memorial. Honor Flight is a national non-profit organization that raises money to honor veterans with free trips to Washington, flying them in on commercial and charter vets for a day that offers them trips to memorials around the city.
"This morning, when I heard they were not going to let these veterans in, I was pissed. It's kind of like we can make everything else in government that is not important keep running but when it comes to honoring these heroes, we're going to the extra effort of barricading a memorial and having parks folks shut it down," Hoekstra said.
Honor Flight's Chairman of the Board Jim McLaughlin told Newsmax early Tuesday morning that he had some concerns about the shutdown's impact on his cause. About 3,500 veterans are slated to visit memorials in the month of October with about 900 coming to visit this week.
"It's devastating," McLaughlin said of the shutdown halting visits. "These World War II veterans have been waiting 65 years to see this memorial and for them not to have the opportunity to see it…. I can't imagine how these veterans might feel going home tonight and not getting their chance.
"For most of them, this is their only chance," he added. "The average age is now around 87-88 and many are in their early 90s. They are never going to get another."
Some in Washington, lauding the veterans' determination as "the greatest generation," say they doubt a little government power-tripping will stop these brave heroes, many of whom served on the front lines.
Wrote Cheri Jacobus on The Hill's Pundit Blog
: "They fought on the beaches of Normandy. Do we really think a little government shutdown is going to stop these guys?"
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