You may have heard about this awesomeness yesterday. World War II veterans, many flown in my Honor Flight, went to the World War II Memorial to pay respects to their fallen comrades. The Park Service had closed the memorial, citing safety and security concerns. Apparently, our veterans were good enough to storm the beaches of Normandy but can’t walk or be wheeled around outside without someone on call in case they fall.
Someone removed the barricades yesterday — it’s still not clear whom — and the veterans got into to the memorial. After earlier threatening to arrest anyone who went to the monument today, the Park Service has backed down.
A day after hundreds of tourist veterans took over the closed down World War II Memorial in the heart of the Nation’s Capital, the United States Park Police announced that planned Honor Flight visits to the monument are considered “First Amendment activities,” which are allowed regardless of the government’s operating status.
The news came at the same times as several hundred veterans from Missouri and Kansas roamed the memorial, in defiance of federal orders that the site was not open to the public. It ended some — but not all — of the circus atmosphere at the somber monument, which pays tribute to the 16 million troops who served in that war.
The memorial has been closed since midnight Tuesday morning because of the government shutdown resulting from Congress’ failure to pass a budget plan to start the new fiscal year.
Honor Flight is coming out very well in this, which doesn’t surprise me given the people who run it. They understand the position the Park Service is in, they are trying to avoid the media circus and you can tell they really don’t like the politicians stampeding down from Capital Hill to pose with veterans and claim their support. They just want these heroes to be able to visit the monument, period. And they appear to have carried the day.
We tend to be a bit glib about the government shutdown, joking about why “non-essential” people are being employed anyway. But the shutdown is having an impact, most of which will be felt in the long term. Veterans benefits will have problems in about two weeks, the CDC’s flu shot program (which saves tens of thousands of lives every year) is not going, NIH has to turn away kids from its cancer center, NASA is basically shut down, oil and gas drilling permits are not being issued, E-Verify on immigrant workers is shut down, etc., etc.
But this seems like one of those times when the Feds have gotten stupid. It’s nice to have people at national monuments that can answer questions, direct crowds and respond to a medical situation. It’s not required. And to take the attitude of “you will have supervised visits or no visits” for open-air monuments is ridiculous. All the open-air national monuments should be open right now. As Maggie said last night:
— Maggie McNeill (@Maggie_McNeill) October 2, 2013
Resources are being used to close the parks. Why? A few police to make sure no one vandalizes anything (hardly a danger with 80-year old vets) is more than enough. This is one of those times when we’re seeing something government does that we can kind of live without.