A Vietnam veteran whom police described as distraught and angry about a delay in government benefits, pulled a flintlock pistol on a guard at the Washington Monument yesterday, ran up the obelisk's winding staircase and held off police for about two hours by pointing the gun at his own throat.
The man, Paul M. Gundlach, 34, of Flint, Mich., surrendered at about 11:15 a.m., police said. No shots were fired and no one was injured, although about 90 tourists were evacuated from the monument during the incident.
"He first stated that he came here to die," said U.S. Park Police detective Kenneth Green, who eventually persuaded Gundlach to throw down his weapon and surrender. "I got the impression that he didn't want to hurt anybody but himself. He wanted to run everybody out of the top of the monument and make his demands known. He wanted to let somebody know that he wasn't getting what he wanted."
Police said they later discovered that the gun, a model of a Revolutionary War pistol made from a do-it-yourself kit, could not have fired because it lacked gunpowder.
Gundlach was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon and assault with a dangerous weapon. Police plan to release him to St. Elizabeths Hospital for psychiatric treatment after his arraignment tomorrow.
Police said Gundlach, who was unemployed, said he was angry because the Veterans Administration told him he was suffering from "delayed stress syndrome," but that it could not review his case for five months. DSS is a mental disorder recognized by the VA, in which the victim finds he must constantly face risk in order to live.
VA spokesman Larry Moen said yesterday that he didn't know whether Gundlach had put in a disability claim and that it could take three to six months for a veteran to qualify to receive compensation under the "delayed stress syndrome" program.
Gundlach also said the Internal Revenue Service has owed him $400 since 1977 and that he had come to Washington two weeks ago to join in a protest by Vietnam veterans.
Yesterday's incident began about 9:15 a.m. when Gundlach, dressed in fatigues and heavy boots, tried to enter the monument with a large knapsack, park police said. When he was told to leave it outside, Gundlach dropped it and pulled out a foot-long .67-caliber flintlock pistol, police said. Gundlach pointed the gun at a National Park Service ranger and a few tourists before fleeing into a ground-floor office, scaling a fence and mounting the steps, which have been closed off since 1976, police said.
He got to the 470-foot level of the 555-foot high monument before police, approaching from above and below, trapped him, police said. Gundlach then sat with the pistol pointed just below his chin for more than an hour, not saying a word, as police urged him to surrender.
Gundlach's mother, Lillian, reached in Flint, said she has not seen or heard from her son since 1978, when he left home for Houston after he was laid off at a truck manufacturing plant.
"He's never done anything like this," she said. "I'm just thankful he didn't hurt anybody." She said her son served in the U.S. Army military police and was stationed in Vietnam for about six months during the late 1960s. "He just didn't feel that it was a fair war. He didn't like the fact that everybody was getting killed over there and not allowed to fight back."
Gundlach, about 6 feet 5, and with sandy hair, talked to police with painstaking slowness, Green said. He told Green that he had been sleeping on city streets since he and other Vietnam veterans were forced off the Mall during a demonstration held last month to protest what they said was the government's unresponsiveness to Vietnam veterans.
Yesterday's incident at the monument was unprecedented, said George Berklacy, spokesman for the park service. "During the Vietnam War era, we did have three occasions that come to mind where protesters took over the monument with sit-ins. But this is the first instance of an individual brandishing a gun and taking it over."
Berklacy said one park police guard and a couple of rangers usually patrol the area, which police cleared during the incident. The park service and park police plan to review monument security procedures this week, he said.