Park Service Knew World War II Veterans Would Be Locked Out
Internal e-mails reveal Interior feared being blamed, bent rules for its own staff.


Jillian Kay Melchior

The Department of the Interior knew beforehand that two groups of aging veterans would be visiting the World War II Memorial as the partial government shutdown began on Oct. 1 but decided to barricade the site anyway, according to e-mails obtained by National Review Online.

The newly released public records also show National Park Service employees busily monitoring the news for any bad publicity and making shutdown exceptions for their co-workers.

On Sept. 30, staff from the offices of Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) and Representative Steven Palazzo (R.,  Miss.) contacted the Department of the Interior’s Office of Congressional Affairs, as well as the National Park Service’s Washington Office and at least one regional office.

Tom Buttry, a legislative correspondent in Harkin’s office, wrote on Sept. 30:

While I understand that these memorials have remained accessible to the public during past shutdowns (I’d imagine with the mall being so open, it’d probably [be] more manpower intensive to try to completely close them), I wanted to do my due diligence and make 100 percent sure that people could visit the outdoor memorials on the National Mall in the event of a shutdown.

The Department of the Interior and National Park Service decided instead to fully shut down the site, e-mails show:

The aftermath was widely reported: The visiting veterans defied the barricades, crossing to visit the site as bagpipes played and onlookers cheered. Meanwhile, CNN reported:

Outraged and baffled, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, crossed through an opening in the railing 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.”

 As the veterans’ story caught national attention, the Park Service looked for evidence that Congress was being held responsible for the memorial’s closure instead:

Meanwhile, on at least one occasion, the National Park Service’s deputy superintendent of operations for the National Mall and Memorial Parks gave its own staff permission to move barriers:

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum. 

Veterans Defy Shutdown
The Obama administration tried to make political hay out of the government shutdown on October 1, but one park closure quickly backfired when a group of determined veterans defied the signs and fences at the World War II Memorial. Here’s a look at what happened, plus images by NR staffers of today’s visits.
Park Service personnel, reportedly acting on instructions from the Office of Management and Budget, had attempted to close access to the open-air memorial early Tuesday, erecting temporary fences, stringing tape and hanging signs.
A large group of veterans arrived at the memorial Tuesday morning to find the closed signs. The group was participating in the Honor Flight program to visit memorials erected in their honor.
With a little help from some members of Congress, the veterans group swept past the barricades and into the memorial. Iowa Rep. Steve King was credited in some news reports with distracting a Park Police officer, allowing the crowd to move through the gates.
A bagpiper led some 80 veterans into the memorial.
Images of the veterans gaining access to the memorial quickly spread on social media, joined later by news outlets.
Iowa Rep. Steve King poses with some constituents.
Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann was on hand to greet the veterans.
Texas Rep. Louis Gomert was also there.
This image showing some of the veterans displaying a trophy from their successful visit quickly made the rounds on Twitter.
OCTOBER 2: By Wednesday morning, the Park Service acquiesced somewhat, announcing an exemption from the closure for “First Amendment activities.” Here are images of another group of veterans at the WWII and Vietnam Veterans memorials. (Photo: Betsy Woodruff)
Larger crowds of supporters and media were on hand on Wednesday. (Photo: NR Staff)
(Photo: Betsy Woodruff)
(Photo: NR Staff)
(Photo: Betsy Woodruff)
(Photo: Betsy Woodruff)
(Photo: NR Staff)
(Photo: NR Staff)
Some ineffective bureaucratic yellow tape still remained. (Photo: Jim Geraghty)
Rep. Bachmann returned to greet veterans and their supporters. (Photo: Betsy Woodruff)
(Photo: Betsy Woodruff)
(Photo: Betsy Woodruff)
Another veterans group visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. (Photo: Betsy Woodruff)
Visitors ignored the shutdown signs at the Korean War Memorial. (Photo: Jim Geraghty)
Updated: Oct. 02, 2013