Lawmakers, Veterans Storm WWII Memorial Closed by Shutdown

A National Park Service employee secures a barrier at the World War II memorial after a group of veterans broke through so they could visit the site. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Steve King is having one of the best days he’s ever had in Washington.

“Perhaps the best,” King said on a conference call with reporters.

On top of a government shutdown, which King said has produced a more unified Republican conference than the day before, the Iowa Republican started his day by helping a group of veterans at the World War II memorial take back their closed monument.

When a group of Mississippian veterans arrived at the memorial Tuesday morning, they found barricades blocking access to the open-air monument.

A number of GOP lawmakers were there to meet with the veterans — including Reps. Steven M. Palazzo of Mississippi, Rich Nugent of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Spencer Bachus of Alabama — and they weren’t happy that the National Park Service had spent money to erect barricades around the monument during the government shutdown.

“For me that’s just appalling,” King said.

He hatched a plan to distract the National Park Service ranger while the other lawmakers and the veterans, some of whom were in wheelchairs, pushed aside the blockades.

“That was my intent when I went over there,” King said, confirming that he intended to distract the ranger while the group took back the memorial.

As King talked with the ranger, roughly 90 veterans — ranging in ages from 84 to 98 — stormed the monument. Rangers and police, realizing they were dealing with a public relations situation that could turn worse than toxic, stood and watched as the veterans and lawmakers pushed aside the barricades.

When all was said and done, veterans celebrated with a round of bagpipes and the group laid wreaths at various spots at the monument.

The veterans were there as part of the Honor Flight project, which helps veterans travel for free to various war memorials, and the battle over the monument visit started days ago, when Palazzo's staff began contacting the NPS and the Interior Department to see if the open-air monument would be open.

"We tried to go through the proper channels," said Palazzo's spokeswoman, Laura Chambers.

Palazzo also sent President Barack Obama a letter Monday requesting that the administration not restrict the veterans' access to the memorial.

"I don’t know if this is a political ploy or a bureaucratic oversight, but even in the event of a government closure, there is absolutely no justification for shutting out our veterans from their memorial," Palazzo wrote.

Palazzo's staff confirmed that they had been in contact with a liaison at the White House who was working to make sure the veterans had access to the monument, but by Tuesday morning, it was still up in the air.

The Republican lawmakers and the veterans took the matter into their own hands.

King said he would be “as active as I need to be” to ensure that veterans have access to the WWII memorial. But if House Republicans have their way, King’s efforts might be unnecessary.

Republicans plan to pass a bill to keep national parks open during the government shutdown as part of a new piece-by-piece government funding strategy.

Other lawmakers who were at the WWII memorial to meet with the veterans included: Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.