Veterans swarm ‘closed’ WWII memorial, knock politicians

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent

Veterans of World War II — some in wheelchairs, others clutching canes and at least one advising a much younger reporter to embrace “good whiskey and bad women” — swarmed the WWII Memorial on Wednesday in defiance of the government shutdown.

Unlike a similar scene on Tuesday, there was little drama as the Honor Flight volunteers did their duty. Sure, more lawmakers generously protected the veterans by getting between them and TV cameras, and there were a handful of protesters. But Park Police officials made no serious attempt to keep the elderly guests out — and in fact ended up facilitating their visit with a wink-and-nod and a clear path from their buses to the memorial.

Yahoo News joined other media outlets at the memorial, which sits on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Here’s some of what we saw:

This is not auspicious. It’s closed “except for 1st Amendment activities.”

This is Eugene Morgan of West Memphis, Ark., He’s 96. He served in the Marines in the bloody Guadalcanal Campaign in the Pacific. He’d been planning this trip — his first to the memorial —
for six months.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., was there. Vic Medina of Texas asked for a picture, and she was happy to oblige.

Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R.-Mich., was there. He posed for this shot with eighth-graders from St Patrick’s school in White Lakes, Mich. Later he quizzed them on how many days of the week start with a “T.” He failed them. Because of “Tuesday, Thursday ... today and tomorrow.”

Lance Frye of Woodbridge, Va., was there. With “Joe Lee, who’s an Eagle Scout.” It was a beautiful day — but maybe not for Park Police spokeswoman Carol Johnson. “We’re not seeking a confrontation with anybody,” she said. “This is a very important memorial for these veterans. They have come a long way to see it. We know that.” Later she said the Honor Flight veterans were being given access to the memorial. (Among her toughest questioners: Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich. “This is so stupid it’s not funny,” he said at one point.)

Carroll Carey, a WWII veteran from Missouri who served in the Navy, freely advised this reporter that the secret to longevity is to “do a lot of dancing.” He was up at 2 a.m. to get on a bus to the airport. What does he think of the shutdown? “I hope they get it straightened out one of these days,” he said. “They’ve got to work together.”

Each of the 4,048 stars equals 100 Americans killed.

Bob Butler, a 92-year-old who spent WWII on a cruiser that reached the Japanese home islands, made a point about Congress. “If we don’t like ’em, we can get new ones.”

It’s wrong to play favorites with a crowd like this. Really. But David Hernandez, a WWII Army veteran who did England-France-Belgium-Luxembourg-Germany “right to Berlin” stands out. Why? At 90, he proudly declares that he doesn’t need glasses. What’s his secret? “Good whiskey and bad women.”

Art Gibson, 86, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean “in the engine room, on the throttle.”

A group gathered here to hear someone sing “Amazing Grace.”

And others solemnly listened to taps.