Gentle men in blue baseball caps and red T-shirts, they said it was emotional just to be there — and a shame to have come all the way from their homes in Mississippi for this.
Suddenly, in the bright sunshine, cheers and applause erupted. The barricades had been moved — by whom it was not clear. And the column of veterans poured through the gap in the lines and into the memorial.
It was a chaotic scene from the first day of the shutdown: frail-looking men — at least one of whom hadn’t been to Washington since the war — led by jubilant Republican Congress members and television crews as a bagpiper played “Shenandoah.”
Bystanders clapped and shouted, “Thank you for your service!”
No Park Police officers were immediately in evidence in the scrum.
The memorial had been closed at around 8:30 a.m. and its fountains shut down shortly after that. A National Park Service spokeswoman said Park Police were there monitoring the situation.
“It’s the best civil disobedience we’ve seen in Washington for a long time,” Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) told part of the group inside the memorial.
“As the son of a World War II veteran, I just want to say, guys, forget about all this politics and all this junk,” he said. “This is about you today, and this is about us saying thank you to you and your service.”
Someone shouted: “Members of Congress here say America doesn’t shut down!”
And a group of people called out in unison: “We love our congressmen!”
It was unclear just who had moved the black bicycle-rack-type barricades.
Huizenga said the lawmakers had done it. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he thought the Park Service had opened the gates. “I think the Park Service leadership didn’t like the visual,” he said. “And who would?”
The monuments are closed because, during a shutdown, there is no money to pay the rangers who staff them, said the Park Service spokeswoman, Carol Bradley Johnson. And the agency is worried about the security of the memorials and the safety of visitors at unstaffed sites.
“It is not something we enjoy doing,” Johnson said. “But it’s important that we protect and preserve our monuments for future generations.”
Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-Miss.) said the barricades just seemed to part for the veterans Tuesday.
“All I can say is the Japanese couldn’t stop them,” he said. “The Germans couldn’t stop them. Apparently a little gate couldn’t stop them.
“I just looked down and they parted,” Palazzo said.
The veterans were touring the memorial on the Mall as part of the Honor Flight program, which flies in veterans from around the country for free to visit the memorial.