Jeff Miller, the co-founder of the program that flies World War II veterans to Washington to visit the National World War II Memorial, knew that the government shutdown could ruin veterans' trips to Washington this week.
He spoke with high-ranking National Park Service officials Tuesday night about letting three groups of veterans — about 350 in all — get into the memorial.
"I told him we had three groups coming in and it was our intention to go into the memorial," he said.
He did not get a yes but what he got was not exactly a no either.
"You understand," the official said, "we cannot give you permission, right?"
Early Wednesday morning Miller was on a flight to Washington to meet the three Honor Flights, one from Chicago and two from Missouri.
When the veterans reached the memorial, they encountered a crush of media, politicians and spectators unlike anything they had seen. The memorial was closed off with a barrier and police tape.
"When our veterans got there I just picked up the barricade and moved it," he said. "I had the police tape in my hand and Michele Bachmann took it out of my hand."
Miller, who founded HonorAir in Hendersonville in 2006, has been a driving force behind the effort to fly as many World War II veterans as want to go to the National World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004. HonorAir celebrated its 300th flight last month and more are scheduled even as the veterans age.
One of the things Miller said in an email to someone in authority was that this trip might be the veterans' last chance to see the memorial.
On Wednesday night he got a call from MSNBC for an interview. The network sent a car from Charlotte to pick him up on Thursday. The interview was to take place at a Charlotte news studio but got called off because of the Capitol lockdown Thursday afternoon.
"It's a real liberal group but who cares when it comes to this," he said of the network.
The World War II Memorial access has been worked out now.
National Park Service attorneys advised the veterans groups to apply for a permit on the ground that the First Amendment gives them the right to assemble. The attorneys advised them to lise a reason for gathering. The reason? To discuss the closing of the National World War II Memorial.
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