In the past two weeks, the World War II Memorial in the District of Columbia has been a rallying point for veterans in the wake of the federal government shutdown. Sunday, thousands of veterans and supporters descended on the memorial to send a message to the government to end the shutdown.
Authorities had closed the memorial with barricades, but resilient Honor Flight veterans made national news when they broke thru those barriers and honored the memory of thousands who served and died in WWII. Almost instantly, those veterans became symbols of everything that is wrong with the shutdown and the bureaucrats that allowed it to occur.
Veterans voiced their anger at Congress and the White House and demanded respect.
“I can’t stand what the government’s doing to us now,” said Pete Whateley of Alabama.” Closing our monuments – it’s not theirs to close. It belongs to us, we paid for it.”
Whateley, a Vietnam-era Army veteran, had a direct message for elected officials: “Clean up this mess,” he said. “Start working together. Stop the thumping of your chest, quit trying to be bullies and get in there and work this thing out.”
“Let’s stop this crazy raising the debt ceiling every time we turn around, our country can’t afford it. Let’s get out of other countries and let’s take care of America,” Whateley said with passion.
While Whateley’s sentiments seemed directed at politicians in general, many focused their frustration squarely at President Obama. Initially, a small group of protesters marched to the front of the White House.
Protesters peacefully voiced their concerns without much interference from police. Some vented their frustration with the government at uniformed Secret Service police officers, while others yelled thru the fence at the White House – hoping the president could hear.
A second, larger group of protesters later marched to the ellipse side of the White House. The group was more boisterous but remained peaceful. Although a group of protesters removed barricade gates and carried them away, police made no arrests at the time.
The stressful effects of the shutdown were evident among some protesters. Don Armstrong, a Michigan veteran who suffers from PTSD and bipolar disorder, said he did not pay half of his bills this month to save food money should the shutdown continue.
“The basic needs are food, shelter and security. We cut our cable out, we cut Internet out, [we cut] anything that would give you enjoyment,” said Armstrong. “When you put those types of stresses on a person – that – he can’t even feed his family.”
Armstrong said that he does not agree with what Republicans did but understands that “it’s a strategy.”
“We can’t be put in their shoes, he said, and they can’t be put in our shoes. But they have to remember it’s about humans, it’s not about squabbling.”