Hundreds of veterans are being granted access to the shuttered World War II Memorial on the National Mall Wednesday, a day after members of Congress pushed aside barriers to allow another group inside.
The mall's memorials are closed as part of the government shutdown, with barricades placed around them after the government shutdown took effect at midnight Tuesday.
But the National Park Service said Wednesday that it's allowing access to WWII veterans -- many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, with some in wheelchairs -- so they can exercise their first amendment rights, reported News4's Mark Segraves.
The memorial remains closed to the general public.
Hundreds of vets traveled to the region on Honor Flights from Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and other locations Wednesday and are now pouring into the site after members of Congress, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann, returned to the site and removed the barriers around 10:50 a.m. Wednesday.
Bachmann, still clutching a strip of police tape, said she would keep it as a memento. Many other members of both houses of Congress were mingling with the crowd Wednesday at mid-day.
The flights bringing the vets into the region had been scheduled prior to the government shutdown and could not be rescheduled.
Honor Flights are planned almost every day, according to Carol Johnson of the National Park Service, including five for Wednesday.
As the shutdown continued through a second day, protesters were also on hand at the memorial Wednesday to register their support for the Greatest Generation -- and their frustration with the government.
"Vets do their job; Congress, do yours," read one protester's sign.
Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress questioned why an open-air monument would be closed because of the government shutdown.
"At first we thought this was a bureaucratic oversight," Palazzo said Tuesday. "How could we deny our World War II veterans an opportunity to visit their memorial? But the more that we talk, it just seems that it might be more politics, petty politics, than anything else."
The Mississippi group that got into the memorial Tuesday returned home later that night, one proudly bearing a strip of yellow tape bearing the message "Police Line Do Not Cross" as they arrived at the airport.
"We just opened the gates and allowed 91 World War II veterans to come see their monument that was erected in their honor, and it feels great," said Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), one of the congressmen who welcomed the vets Tuesday.
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