National Park Service to keep WWII Memorial open to veterans, as visitors skirt shutdown

At Marion Park on Capitol Hill, two fence gates were chained closed, but one was not, and a group of children played inside.

At the Korean War Veterans Memorial, on the Mall, the entrance was blocked with barricades, but visitors just walked around the barriers and entered.

At the closed-off National World War II Memorial, two days of assaults by veterans prompted the National Park Service to announce that they had the legal right to be there and would not be barred in the future.

Across federal Washington on Wednesday, the government shutdown was leaking badly — partly as a result of citizen contrarians, war veterans, politicians and the difficulty of enforcement by the National Park Service. But the shutdown still managed to cause further inconvenience, as officials announced Wednesday night that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, would be postponed until Nov. 10.

While many memorials, parks and monuments overseen by the Park Service were closed off to visitors, others, like Lafayette Square, McPherson Square and Dupont Circle, remained open as “pedestrian pass-throughs.”

The National Park Service announced it would keep the WWII Memorial open to veterans during the shutdown after more visited the closed memorial Wednesday. (Michael Ruane /The Washington Post)

“It would be impossible to” close them, said Park Service spokeswoman Carol Bradley Johnson.

In the cases of other parks, it’s difficult to make it evident that a park is closed, said another Park Service spokeswoman, Jennifer Mummart.

“In big Western parks, where you have an entrance gate, you shut the gate and it’s very evident to everyone that it’s closed,” she said.

“Here, in D.C., it’s pretty unique, because there’s . . . what essentially amount to neighborhood national parks,” she said. “Although they’re not fenced or barricaded, they are in fact closed because we don’t have a (funding) appropriation.”

She said the Park Service sought to close the city’s 20 playgrounds at federal neighborhood parks for safety reasons.

“Because we don’t have anyone to patrol that playground area, and empty the trash and check for broken equipment . . . we just felt like it’s better to ensure safety,” she said.

David Shove Brown, 40, passed a locked-down playground at Lincoln Park with his 3-year-old daughter, Brighid, and two dogs. “It’s very surreal,” he said.

“Somebody gave the instruction to fabricate the [closed] signage . . . go around and place the signage and lock the gates, and go through this process, for four slides and some monkey bars,” he said. “Really? Is that what the solution is?”

At Stanton Park, also on Capitol Hill, a father looked at the chain and padlock on the gate around the playground, raised his eyebrows, then lifted his 4-year-old son over the fence.

He clambered over as his son dashed away to gather chestnuts, leaving a baby asleep in a stroller on the other side of the fence. Another dad soon followed, dropping his daughter over the fence.

More and more climbed in, most without an apparent second thought.

Underneath the slide, where children gathered playing “bus,” a little girl asked where they were going.

“To jail, for defying Congress,” one parent joked under his breath.

“We’re conscientious objectors,” another said.

On the Mall, the barricades blocking the entrance to the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the “closed” signs were no impediment to people who just walked around and entered.

At the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial, barricades at both entrances seemed to have been pushed aside and the memorial was thronged with visitors.

At the World War II Memorial, veterans, accompanied by legislators, breached the barricades for the second day before the Park Service said they had the right to enter.

After similar scenes Tuesday, two groups of veterans from Missouri and the Chicago area descended on the memorial in two phases before noon, this time led by Republican and Democrat legislators.

Tony Faklis, 88, an Army combat veteran and squad leader from Joliet, Ill., was there with the group from Chicago. He said he served in France and Germany, and his brother, Lt. Peter J. Faklis, was killed in Germany on Dec. 7, 1944.

“I didn’t know it until the war ended,” Faklis said. “The family didn’t want me to know.”

He was happy to get into the memorial, which he had not seen before. “I was so impressed with all the attention, that we don’t deserve,” he said. “We appreciated it.”

“I think it’s beautiful,” he said. Told the memorial’s fountains were turned off because of the shutdown, he said: “Oh, the shutdown. What the hell. Don’t make sense.”

The veterans who visited Wednesday were part of programs which fly veterans for free from around the country to Washington to see the World War II Memorial.

Legislators from both parties were on hand.

“I understand the argument from a safety and maintenance point of view, for keeping this closed for general admission,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.). “On the other hand, I’m very pleased that the Park Service saw fit to make an exception for this special group.

“We just have to get the government to work the way it’s designed,” he said. “We’re just trying to hammer out a deal . . . There is a centrist group that’s willing to step up and get the government to work the way people expect it to.”

Jeff Miller, co-founder of the Honor Flight Network, had praise for the Park Service.

“They have been so compassionate and so nice,” he said. “They have done everything they could, bent over backwards, to not inconvenience or disappoint these veterans.”

In the future, “we don’t need representatives, senators, anybody here,” he said. “We will be allowed to move the gate if there’s no one here and our veterans [can] go in.”

He wondered if Congress could just fund the National Park Service’s memorials.

“I think it would be such an olive branch between the two parties to simply help the oldest generation of warriors that we have, the ones that saved the world,” he said.

“It could be the first piece” to a solution to the stalemate, he said. “Fund the memorials. That’s all you’ve got to do. We need this. We don’t need to have to push gates.”

michael.ruane@washpost.com

Michelle Boorstein, Amy Joyce and Susan Svrluga contributed to this story.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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