GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

Honor Flight may continue despite closed memorials

10/3/2013
BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Members of Honor Flight Northwest Ohio board a flight to Washington D.C. on a previous trip.
Members of Honor Flight Northwest Ohio board a flight to Washington D.C. on a previous trip.

The veterans of World War II and the Korean War faced murderous fire, freezing weather, and cantankerous drill sergeants.

So some National Park Service yellow tape is going to keep them from seeing the World War II Memorial?

Well, maybe.

Latta
Latta

That’s the question Honor Flight Northwest Ohio will be wrestling with today and possibly through the weekend as they decide whether to go through with a planned charter flight with 70 veterans set for Wednesday in the face of a partial government shutdown.

Kaptur
Kaptur

Area grocery store owner and Korean War veteran Walter Churchill, 84, is one of those signed up for the trip. He said the group should go ahead and take their chances with the park police.

“I can’t believe anybody would be so ... dumb to try to stop a tour. Sure, I would take the chance. We already took our chances,” Mr. Churchill said, with a chuckle. “This is all set up to go.”

The National Park Service’s official position is that the parks are closed, but announced late Wednesday after two days of angry visits by aged veterans that they had the legal right to be there and would not be barred in the future, the Washington Post reported.

Lee Armstrong, president of Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, said he was being besieged by veterans from around the country Wednesday encouraging him to stick to his plans.

But Mr. Armstrong said he’s not sure he should take Honor Flight into a situation where they could potentially have to cross a National Park Service Police barricade.

“What I plan on doing right now is on Friday start calling all the veterans on the flight. I’m going to tell them, ‘This is your option. Technically we’re going to be breaking the law,’ ” said Mr. Armstrong, a Vietnam-era veteran who is also executive director of the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t come down to that. I’m hoping something’s going to happen and this is all going to become clear next week,” Mr. Armstrong said. He said he could cancel the trip as late as Monday without losing money on the air and bus charters and food service.

“People need to contact their legislative people and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Mr. Armstrong said.

Honor Flight is a charity organization that pays for groups of elderly war veterans to go to Washington to see the war memorials.

David Chilson, one of six members of Honor Flight Northwest Ohio’s board, said he’s encouraged by reports that the National Park Service is allowing veterans through.

“I am very encouraged, very optimistic about that,” Mr. Chilson said. “That is my feeling right now that we are going to proceed.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said there could be a vote on a bill today to keep open the parks and memorials, along with four other bills to partially lift the partial government shutdown.

“The Park Service is saying now they will not bar veterans from going through the memorial and I think that’s the right call,” Mr. Latta said. “Absolutely I think they should come.”

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), whose legislation first introduced in 1987 led to the creation of the World War II Memorial, recommended the Honor Flight consider staying home because of the lack of support services, such as bathrooms and interpretive staff who welcome the veterans.

“I would have a rain date. I would have an alternate date before the weather gets too cold,” Miss Kaptur said. Even though she said it appears there will be an opening in the fence to allow veterans through, “the fountain’s not working, there’s no interpretation, it’s just not the same.”

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.