Government shutdown 2013: World War II honor flight veterans visit closed memorial

Photo: Hatzel Vela

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJLA/AP) - It was an act of civil disobedience that marked the fact some barriers nor a government shutdown would keep a group of World War II veterans from visiting the monument erected in their honor.

Several dozen vets from a Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight took in the sites at the World War II memorial Tuesday afternoon, including 93-year-old veteran John Murphy.

"Wanted to come ever since they opened," he said. "It's an honor to be here."

Murphy was satisfied just seeing the memorial through the fence, as barricades had been placed at the memorial due to the shutdown.

But suddenly, the gates opened, allowing the vets to get inside, check out the memorial and snap a few photos. In video taken at the monument, two unidentified men in suits opened the barricades.

This allowed the group of veterans to make their way onto the monument grounds.

Right by Murphy’s side was his daughter, Trish Burkes.

"He's 93, but still going strong, so maybe we'll have him back next year and the year after and the year after, but this one is very special," she said.

The Stafford resident and government worker had stayed home on Tuesday because of the shutdown.

"We need to everyday be honoring them, but this has meant a lot to my father -- it's a long time coming," said Burkes.

Murphy came with a group of 92 WWII veterans from Mississippi. A second group from Iowa also walked through the Memorial.

Robert Lekwak, 87, was with his son, John.

"They decided, shut down or not, they were going to see to it this is open for us to see, I guess," said Lekwak.

According to the Washington Post, a pair of members of Congress, Mississippi Rep. Roger Wicker and Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga, traded ideas on who it was, whether it was one of them or a U.S. Park Police officer.

"To have turned them away would not have been a happy picture, and I think everyone realized that," said Wicker.

Regardless, an officer on duty who declined to be identified told the Post that he wasn't going to enforce the closure on a group of veterans, many of whom were confined to wheelchairs.

All National Park Service facilities and parks, including the National Mall and national landmarks throughout D.C., will remain closed for as long as the federal government remains shuttered.

"This is not something the Park Service wanted to do," said spokeswoman Carol Johnson. "We want to get back to work. We want to get back to welcoming visitors."

“I waited 70 years to get a welcome like this," veteran Alex Pitalo told Stars & Stripes Magazine. "And to get to see this and to have all those people clapping … I’m just so happy. This was amazing.”