Tuesday, October 1, 2013

'Greatest generation' veterans sweep past barricades at memorial in their honor.


What was meant to be a final gathering of heroes Tuesday instead became a final victory for dozens of World War II combat vets who refused to let the government's budget battle block a visit to their memorial in the nation's capital.

With bagpipers playing "Amazing Grace," nearly 200 veterans from Mississippi and Iowa swept past barricades and security guards at the World War II Memorial in Washington in order to keep a commitment to visit the site, which was closed today due to the partial government shutdown. The veterans, in their 80s and 90s, were accompanied by Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., a former Marine who earlier vowed not to let the National Park Police keep them from a planned visit to the open-air monument.

"For some reason, I just feel like royalty," Jim Ferencak, a Navy and Air Force veteran told GulfLive.com at the event.

"We're going to be there. That’s all there is to it. I don’t know what these veterans will do if they're not allowed to view the monument, but whatever they do, I'll be right there with them."

- Congressman Steven Palazzo

Some veterans on hand wiped away tears when they saw a crowd waving the American flag as they came out of their bus.

"These men and women didn't cower to the Japanese and Germans," Palazzo said. "I don't think they're about to let a few National Park Police stand in their way."

Palazzo, who was joined by several other members of Congress, moved the barricades at the memorial and police did not try to stop the veterans' access.

"It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission," Palazzo said. “We lined the veterans up along the blockade, we saw an opening and we took it.”

The veterans are traveling as part of Honor Flight, a program that enables World War II veterans to partake in an expense-paid trip to view the memorial. Tuesday's trip is the second-to-last flight, with the last scheduled for November. But prior to their arrival early Tuesday, there was fear that the government shutdown and federal worker furloughs would mean no access to the monuments on the National Mall.

But with lawmakers leading the charge, the American military heroes, some in wheelchairs, surged into the memorial.

"This is the best civil disobedience we've seen in Washington in a while," Congressman Bill Huizenga, of Michigan, told GulfLive.com.

"We're all thankful for their efforts and I know these veterans are thankful as well," Wayne Lennep, the Honor Flight organizer said.

Joe Cleveland, of Union, Miss., told The Mississippi Press that he would "be thinking about the many battles that have been fought and thanking all those who were willing to go fight for our country."

Palazzo noted his grandfather, Manuel McCarty, served in World War II at Guadalcanal and Okinawa. Palazzo was 7 years old when his grandfather died and said he sees his grandfather in these veterans.

"I only have a couple of memories of my grandfather," said Palazzo, who has taken part of Honor Flights before. "But each time I see these men, I envision how he'd be."