WASHINGTON — The elderly veterans piled off chartered buses in front of the World War II Memorial, some in wheelchairs, some using canes, all determined to pay homage to each other and their fallen comrades from more than half a century ago.
Metal barricades and signs announcing a closure due to the shutdown of the federal government awaited them.
The graying and stooped men, wearing blue baseball caps, red T-shirts and garlands of red, white and blue flowers, surged forward, accompanied by members of Congress — the same lawmakers who, hours earlier, had triggered a government shutdown by failing to pass a budget resolution.
A shout went up. The barricades had been moved — it was unclear by whom.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he believed the Park Service opened the gates. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., said the congressmen did it. Rep. Steven M. Palazzo, R-Miss., said the barricades just seemed to part.
"I'm not going to enforce the 'no stopping or standing' sign for a group of 90 World War II veterans," said a U.S. Park Police officer, who declined to give his name. "I'm a veteran myself."
The veterans, from Mississippi, were visiting the memorial on the Mall as part of an honor flight program. They had chartered an $80,000 airplane, and their plans were too far advanced to postpone when the government shut down, said Wayne Lennep, spokesman for the Mississippi Gulf Coast honor flights.
The group arrived at Reagan National Airport at 10 a.m. on a flight from Gulfport, Miss. By 11 a.m., the veterans were on the Mall, where the many memorials and monuments were supposed to be closed.