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The National Park Service has relented and allowed hundreds of World War II vets to enter the barricaded World War II Memorial that was closed because of the government shutdown. The Park Service couched the exemption by saying the vets would be engaged in First Amendment activities.
On Monday, the vets arrived as part of the Honor Flight to find yellow tape and steel barricades around the memorial. They ignored the barriers and entered the granite amphitheater surrounded by its wreathed columns and fountains.
On Tuesday, more vets returned as part of the same tour, fearing the memorial would be closed again. They were greeted by hundreds of flag-waving and cheering supporters such as former Marine Lance Frye from Woodbridge, Va. He held a sign that read, "Mr President, Congress, Tear Down This Wall."
Four busloads of veterans in their eighties and nineties entered the memorial to the sound of claps and cheers.
"It's overwhelming, I was thrilled," said World War II and Korean War vet Pete Bollinger. He didn't know if he and his fellow vets would be allowed in. "I think the people in this country have a sincere respect for the military, and I'm glad because there was a time in our history when we didn't treat our returning vets too well," he added.
Some of the veterans were brought in on wheelchairs, such as 97-year-old Eugene Morgan, who tearfully said, "I'm thankful to all the people in America who prayed for us during the war."
There were many members of Congress greeting the vets as they entered the barricaded memorial on Tuesday. Veteran Taylor Hess wasn't too impressed, though. "They want to get re-elected, don't they?", he asked, chuckling.
Hess remarked that the shutdown of the government would have been inconceivable back in the day. When asked if this was the country he fought and bled for, the vet said it wasn't. "No, no it isn't. It is still my country, but some of the people are messing it up."