Loading…
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Current Weather
Loading Current Weather....
10n5honor-1 Members of the Honor Flight of Northwest tour the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Park service rangers said they are allowing anyone to enter the park for First Amendment activities.
Members of the Honor Flight of Northwest tour the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Park service rangers said they are allowing anyone to enter the park for First Amendment activities.
SPECIAL TO BLADE/MARK GAIL Enlarge
Published: 10/9/2013 - Updated: 6 months ago

VISIT TO WASHINGTON

Federal squabbling can’t stop local Honor Flight vets

Congressmen assist with tours of war memorial

BY TRACIE MAURIELLO
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio member Ned Ammons  smiles under the Ohio section of the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington. Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio member Ned Ammons smiles under the Ohio section of the World War II Memorial on Wednesday in Washington.
SPECIAL TO BLADE/MARK GAIL Enlarge

WASHINGTON — David Glasmire was prepared for the last battle of World War II when he arrived in the capital on Wednesday.

The Army veteran said he wasn’t going to let a government shutdown keep him from seeing the World War II Memorial.

PHOTO GALLERY: Honor Flight

“I probably would’ve got arrested. We would have just walked right in anyway,” said Mr. Glasmire, 89, of Lakeside, Ohio, who traveled to the capital with Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, a nonprofit group that brings veterans to see war memorials.

A week ago, National Park Service employees blocked access to the World War II Memorial for similar Honor Flight groups from other states. Members of Congress intervened and someone — it still isn’t clear who — moved barriers that surrounded the memorial so Honor Flight participants could enter the open-air memorial.

But the veterans who traveled from Toledo on Wednesday had no trouble. Instead they were greeted by three park rangers who shook their hands and said “Welcome to your memorial,” and “Good morning. How you doing?”

Barriers held together with tie-wraps still surrounded most of the memorial and the centerpiece fountain remained off, giving the appearance that the area was still closed. But veterans and others walked freely through a southern arch while some tourists hopped a 3-foot-high barrier even as park rangers watched.

“We were lucky to be able to get through,” said Jack Mehle, an 86-year-old World War II veteran from Toledo who had heard about the obstacles other Honor Flight groups encountered last week.

World War II Navy Medic Hubble Finch of Perrysburg had been fearless too. The first time he tried to enlist he was turned away because he was still a few months shy of his 18th birthday.

Ohio congressman Marcy Kaptur talked with Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio  member and Navy veteran Dwaine Betz at the World War II Memorial in Washington. Miss Kaptur was instrumental in getting the memorial built. Ohio congressman Marcy Kaptur talked with Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio member and Navy veteran Dwaine Betz at the World War II Memorial in Washington. Miss Kaptur was instrumental in getting the memorial built.
SPECIAL TO BLADE/MARK GAIL Enlarge

Seventy years later, he has shrapnel scars from a mortar shell that killed the lieutenant sitting next to him in a foxhole during the Battle of Okinawa.

Mr. Finch easily rolled into the memorial using a wheelchair on Wednesday, but the ease of access didn’t quiet his anger that other veterans who’d made similar sacrifices had been turned away last week.

“That was a disgrace. That was foolishness,” he said. The government “spent more money closing the place down that it would cost to keep it open.”

That’s also a concern of the American Center for Law & Justice, a civil-rights firm in Washington that has been working to get the memorials fully open for everyone to visit.

The memorials normally are open 24 hours a day without round-the-clock staffing so it’s unreasonable to restrict access because of the shutdown, center director Jordan Sekulow said in a telephone interview. It cost more for the Park Service to erect barricades around the memorials and send over security guards, who wouldn’t normally be there, to keep people out, he said.

Officials from the National Park Service could not immediately say how much the closure cost or how much it normally costs to operate the World War II Memorial.

Mr. Sekulow said he visited the memorial Thursday, before the Park Service clarified its policy. One ranger let him inside and another promptly escorted him back out, even though a veterans group was allowed in.

“We’re very happy the Honor Flights are being granted an exemption but what about everybody else?” he asked after being turned away.

In a statement Tuesday, Parks Spokesman Michael Litterst said others also would be “granted access to the park for First Amendment activities.” Technically, though, the memorial — along with 401 other Park Service sites across the country — remains closed, he said.

Wednesday afternoon, as the Toledo Honor Flight group wound its way around the memorial, a pair of Park Service employees arrived at the perimeter to replace a “closed” sign with one that said “This National Park Service area is closed except to 1st Amendment Activities.”

One ranger, who asked not to be identified by name, said he couldn’t think of many activities that wouldn’t be covered under the First Amendment, which provides for free expression, so he’s letting everyone inside.

Congressman Bob Latta from the 5th District of Ohio talked with Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio and Army veteran Irving Steinberg at the  World War II  Memorial in Washington. Mr. Latta's father-in-law participated in a Honor Flight trip last year. Congressman Bob Latta from the 5th District of Ohio talked with Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio and Army veteran Irving Steinberg at the World War II Memorial in Washington. Mr. Latta's father-in-law participated in a Honor Flight trip last year.
SPECIAL TO BLADE/MARK GAIL Enlarge

Still, the barricades remained, making the memorial look inaccessible. Tourists approached warily, expecting to be turned away by rangers and park police who flanked the memorial's southern arch, where barriers had been pushed aside.

Members of Congress including Ohio Republican Bob Latta and Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur were on hand Wednesday too.

“I’m here in case there’s a problem,” Mr. Latta said.

He knows how important these visits can be for veterans because his father-in-law, a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific, participated in an Honor Flight trip last year.

Miss Kaptur, who was instrumental in creating the World War II Memorial, said it was disrespectful to keep veterans out and she’s glad the Park Service clarified its policy.

She put the blame squarely on Republicans for putting opposition to the Affordable Care Act ahead of the broader needs of the country.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Tracie Mauriello at: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292, or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.



Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. If a comment violates these standards or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report abuse. To post comments, you must be a Facebook member. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.

Related stories