It was a chilly, damp morning. By the time I got there about 8:20 am, someone had already removed and stacked the barriers from around the World War Two Memorial. Lots of people, 500 to 1000 or so(I’m a little out of practice estimating crowd size, and this one was pretty spread out), were already there with more arriving every minute. Motor cycles everywhere.
After strolling around the WWII Memorial, I headed toward the Wall. It was quiet along the way, and I discovered what portends to be my symbol of this entire shutdown fiasco – the public restroom near Constitution Gardens had the lights turned on but the doors were locked. OK – perhaps we could save some money by not allowing folks to flush the toilets or wash their hands, but with the lights on?
After catching a glimpse of the Wall, and seeing that someone had removed the barriers to it also, I headed back to the WWII Memorial. The crowd size had at least tripled with more folks pouring in. People were milling around. Some wore an indication of prior service in the form of a ball cap or a T shirt. Others wore an old article of uniform. Some signs, but mostly just ordinary Americans showing a patriotic desire to restore our open air memorials to free passage and exploration.
There were speakers, and the assembled crowd seemed to really enjoy them. As is usual, I took up a position a bit away from the crowd, this time on a bench on the north side of the WWII Memorial. I never did see the full crowd because my view was severely obstructed from that bench. But, the number who filed out when an announcement was made that the Lincoln Memorial was still closed was quite sizable – and those barricades were stacked and some fencing pealed back to allow access.
Through all this, there were NPS personnel on site. At no time did I see or hear of any attempt to stop whoever was doing whatever it was that they did.
There were an exciting few minutes when 8-10 police vehicles with lights flashing pulled up and I could not see exactly what was occurring. Several sedans, with several more truck vehicles smaller than paddy wagons but with boxes on the back which made them look like what many counties use to pick up stray animals. Must admit that I wondered if they might contain crowd control dogs and perhaps we were about to be dispersed. The prevailing rumor turned out to be that they were closing 17th Street between Independence and Constitution to keep the trucks which had made a few turns around the block from continuing to do so. They were welcome, but after that first pass really were a distraction to the speakers.
A bit later, with at least half the crowd now at the Lincoln Memorial, an Honor Flight from Puget Sound arrived. It was an honor to be among those greeting these heroes. Wonderful.
Meanwhile, the Honor Flight folks had set up some porta potties for their use, next to yet another locked building containing restrooms. Bless them for having done so. Those little plastic “buildings” were among the most popular meeting locations on site. And they did not seem to care that we were making good use of them. Although I understand that there was some unauthorized fertilizing of park vegetation occurring as well.
Part of my original plan was to take a friend with me who is a retired military chaplain. He, unfortunately, was unable to attend, so I had to make do with an attorney friend instead. Thank you, 2/17 Air Cav, for joining us for this event. It was a distinct pleasure meeting you finally.
A very worthwhile day. Perhaps they will not remain open, but ALL the Memorials were open today, and the tour buses were taking advantage of it. I talked with several tourists who had tried to visit the Memorials earlier in the week and had been unable to. They expressed their gratitude for the veterans who continue to serve.
One very happy note is that this crowd included a lot of younger veterans. The 30- and 40-somethings may actually have outnumbered us 60-somethings for the first time at any even I have attended. A great representation among the slightly younger crowd as well.
About those helicopters that circled around at low level around noon or so, taking pics of the crowd – neither we vets nor the civilians there were intimidated! I prefer to think that some of the NPS personnel were secretly glad to see the Memorials being used and enjoyed as they were intended – by the people who own them.