In spite of the government shutdown, veterans groups plan on visiting the closed World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. for the second straight day Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, a group of about 90 veterans affiliated with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight took down barriers and entered the memorial with the help of multiple congressmen. Three more honor flight groups are scheduled to visit the memorial Wednesday and organizers said they will not be deterred by the shutdown.
"The Honor Flight Will Go On! Our Honor Flight leaves tomorrow, right in the midst of the government shutdown," Andrea Plunkett, a volunteer with the Heartland Honor Flight, wrote on the group's Facebook page Tuesday. "We convened this morning to talk about our options and what we should do. The Heartland Honor Flight said that there's no way we're rescheduling or canceling this trip."
Plunkett wrote that the group's volunteers had decided to do "whatever it takes" to "make sure we get these vets to D.C." She also wrote that the Heartland Honor Flight, which takes veterans from Missouri on trips to Washington, had the help of one of the state's U.S. senators, Republican Roy Blunt.
"When I told Senator Blunt's office about our troubles, they were quick to respond. They said that they've asked the National Park Service to move the barriers for the vets but said that if they don't, staff from the Blunt office will be on hand to help us 'bypass' the barriers," wrote Plunkett. "So government shut down or not, the 90 WWII vets from Kansas City will be in DC tomorrow, hopefully visiting most of the stops on our itinerary."
In an email exchange with TPM Wednesday morning, Plunkett said the group also received support from Missouri's other U.S. senator, Democrat Claire McCaskill. Plunkett said staff from both Missouri senators' offices would be at the memorial and that both McCaskill and Blunt had given the Heartland Honor Flight group "tremendous support."
A spokeswoman for Blunt said he was at the memorial and had been coordinating with the National Parks Service, which oversees the site, "to see what options are available to help the veterans see the memorial." The spokeswoman said she was not sure whether the NPS had agreed to allow the veterans to proceed without interference.
"They have been very helpful in the process, but I really don't have that answer," the spokeswoman said. "But we have been in contact with them and they've been responsive."
TPM also called McCaskill's office and reached a voicemail message saying it was closed due to the shutdown. An NPS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Honor flight groups bring veterans to Washington to view the war memorials free of charge. In addition to the Heartland Honor Flight, another group of veterans from Missouri and one from Illinois were scheduled to visit the memorial on Wednesday. Groups from Iowa and New Mexico have tours scheduled for Thursday.
Photo: Veterans at the WWII memorial Tuesday, courtesy of Jen Walton