Are some World War II veterans angry that the memorial created in their honor is off limits because of the partial government shutdown? You bet they are. The old warriors and their friends stormed passed barriers at the site Sunday, carried a few of the gates to the White House and tussled with police.
Now, some Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of political theater — of deliberately keeping the memorial closed to punctuate the pain caused by the shutdown and federal worker furloughs. Administration officials deny that, and counter that the Republicans were largely responsible for the shutdown in the first place.
As National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis prepares for a grilling before House Republicans on Wednesday, he and other officials say the Park Service has had no choice but to padlock the National World War II Memorial, one of the most popular venues on the Mall. Here, they say, is why:
The shutdown forced the Park Service to furlough about 20,000 workers, including the 300 who work at Mall and memorial parks sites. Jarvis said his skeleton crew is working “diligently to try and ensure” that visitors are allowed to assemble at the sites and even stage a protest if they want. But that’s not enough for some war veterans, who say they might not get another chance to thoroughly explore the memorials of their choice.
The House and Senate “charged the National Park Service with the preservation and protection” of the sites, Jarvis said. He did not answer why a few rangers couldn’t be assigned to highly popular sites — especially ones for aging war veterans. Instead, he said, the workers have to protect the sites whether they’re open or not. And considering that a vandal splattered green paint on the Lincoln Memorial this summer, vigilance is a major priority, he said.
On the average October day, more than 13,000 people turn out at the WWII Memorial, about the same average attendance of a D.C. United soccer match. Those visitors are among the 3.7 million yearly visitors, according to an analysis of Park Service statistics by the National Parks Conservation Association. They come in bunches, elderly men and women crossing 17th Street where cars turn off Independence Avenue, a busy thoroughfare. With no one to watch their comings and goings, park officials say they get nervous.
Jarvis didn’t bring up the 2001 attacks, but his spokesman did. Twelve years later, government workers are antsy about protecting sites. However unlikely it is that a terrorist would take advantage of the shutdown to damage the sites, the Park Service has to be prepared, according to the spokesman, Michael Litterst.