"I literally had hundreds of calls from all over the country from local groups, Boy Scouts, school parties, which had planned on park visits and had to be turned away at the very entrance to the park," said Bruce Babbitt, who was U.S. Interior Secretary in 1995.
Babbitt added that the closures are likely because of concerns about damage to the monuments. No monuments were damaged in 1995, but concern was high because they did not have the needed security as they did before and after the furlough.
"We could not protect the monuments. The monuments are all kind of open, so the lack of protection to historic places of real value is certainly an issue."
The National Park Service said Wednesday it has not tried to stop the veterans from entering the World War II Memorial.
Spokeswoman Carol Johnson said she’s unaware of any plan in place to arrest, or even stop, the veterans or any other groups from breaching the federal barriers.
“The memorial is legally closed,” she said. “We’re asking for cooperation. We’re not seeking a confrontation.”
The members of Congress on hand to greet the veterans included Reps. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.; Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.; and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Senate Republican leadership who has been critical of the House Republican strategy, also attended. He avoided questions about who was most responsible for the shutdown.
“There is plenty of blame to go around here,” Blunt said. “But the memorial, particularly the open memorials like this, could be available to people during the day without any danger to them or the memorial – particularly open to the very veterans who it was built for.”
John Doole, president of the Kansas-City based Heartland Honor Flight, said he spent eight hours Tuesday ensuring that the veterans would be able to continue with their tour. He was confident that the group would be allowed on the memorial grounds. But he said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Kansas Republican, offered to give the group a personal tour of the Capitol if they were denied.
Many of the veterans had been looking forward to the all-expense-paid trip for months. Bob Butler, 92, of Olathe, Kan., who served on the USS Dayton cruiser, was happy to have the opportunity to come to Washington.
But he said the shutdown was a disappointment. He declined to cast any blame on either party.
He sees the shutdown, partly, as a consequence of living in a democracy where leaders have strong views. But that didn’t stop him from poking a little fun at what he sees as Washington’s dysfunction before he visited the wreath honoring Missouri veterans.
“They’re probably doing a better job here than then they do in the Capitol,” he said of the Congress members on hand, chuckling. “But we appreciate what they do for us. And thank goodness if we don’t like them we can get somebody else in.”