WASHINGTON — World War II veterans who stormed barricades on the beaches of Normandy were forced this week to break through another blockade in order to reach the memorial here that honors their service.
The veterans ranged in ages of 80 to 90 years old, dozens of them in wheelchairs, pushed past the metal barricades to view the memorial they had traveled hundreds of miles to visit.
The blockade was erected by the National Park Service and guarded with armed officers after the partial government shutdown was initiated Tuesday.
The incident sparked outrage on Capitol Hill Wednesday where lawmakers continue to grapple with the shutdown, and lead to the bipartisan passage of a bill to reopen veteran memorials, national parks and other American icons including the Smithsonian Museums.
Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn called the metal barricades surrounding the open-air parks “Obamacades,” and asked the president to order the barriers be removed and the National Mall reopened.
“The closure of this memorial is hard to comprehend,” Lamborn said.
“Other Americans are trying to visit national parks all around the country, including in my home state of Colorado,” Lamborn said. “But it’s unacceptable that we are closing parks, some of which don’t even need staff.”
The bill passed on a vote of 252 to 173, but its approval in the Senate is uncertain. Coloradoans voting in favor of reopening parks were Republican Reps. Lamborn, Scott Tipton, Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman, and Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter voted against the measure.
While the Park Service has arbitrarily closed some national parks, other Interior Department agencies this week announced that despite the government shutdown, it would proceed with Obama administration priorities in Colorado including a hearing on endangered species and a public event to destroy ivory.
According to a Fish and Wildlife Service memo obtained by The Colorado Observer, government officials want to continue with plans for the U.S. Ivory Crush event set for Tuesday in Commerce City to destroy six tons of elephant ivory seized by federal officials.
President Barack Obama announced this anti-poaching initiative at a White House event last month with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and committed the U.S. to spending an additional $10 million for the efforts in Africa.
The State Department now considers wildlife trafficking a national security crisis.
The ivory set for destruction next week was confiscated over a 25-year period and includes raw and carved whole tusks as well as smaller carvings, and is currently being held at the agency’s National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver.
Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced in the Federal Register Wednesday that a public hearing would be held Oct. 17 in Denver on its proposal to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list, but to maintain the endangered status for the Mexican wolf.
The arbitrary park closings have prompted Republicans Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the subcommittee on public lands and environmental regulations, to initiate a congressional inquiry to determine the motives for erecting the park barriers and whether the costs outweighed leaving the monuments open.
“It may have cost more money to keep visitors out, than to let them in,” Hastings said during a House floor speech.
Other open-air memorials closed off from the public with metal barricades include the Lincoln Memorial, Korean Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. However, the Japanese Americans Memorial remains open.
“It appears as though only the highly visible monuments and areas are being closed to the public – further proof that the Obama administration is only playing politics and purposely choosing to make this shut down as painful as possible,” Hastings and Bishop said in a letter Wednesday to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.
According to news reports, the White House Office of Management and Budget ordered the Park Service to take such extraordinary steps as blockading public