Seven reasons why the National Park Service closed the World War II Memorial

October 15, 2013

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:

It doesn’t have the manpower to keep it open.

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.

WWII veterans who visit Washington aren’t the only veterans affected.
The USS Arizona site in Hawaii, which commemorates the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, also is closed. So are the Korean and Vietnam war memorials. There’s no money to pay employees to keep a constant eye on visitors, Jarvis said.

Congress made them do it.

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.

Not all visitors can be trusted.
A surprising number of acts of vandalism occur even when the parks are open — more than 2,000 a year on average. On top of that, rangers have to remind people not to eat and drink at sites, and also not to climb onto granite cornerstones and stone columns.

Skeleton crews are thin.
During the shutdown, only 12 workers are responsible for surveying the Mall’s memorials and monuments, including the Washington Monument and the Jefferson, King and Lincoln memorials. On the other hand, while it’s not a tragedy for younger visitors to miss seeing those sites, the same can’t necessarily be said for men in their 80s and 90s who want to see the WWII Memorial.

It’s more than just a visit; it’s an event.

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.

After 9/11, the United States is still uptight.

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.

Darryl Fears has worked at The Washington Post for more than a decade, mostly as a reporter on the National staff. He currently covers the environment, focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and issues affecting wildlife.
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