In the News

WWII vets return to South Mississippi in triumph

Honor Flight participants make national headlines by defying barricades at memorial

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Gulfport, MS, October 1, 2013 | comments


GULFPORT -- Ninety-one World War II veterans were greeted at Gulfport/Biloxi International Airport with an enthusiastic welcome by their neighbors Tuesday evening. Water cannon plumes arched over the runway on their approach, and they received a salute by Marines and U.S. Navy personnel, city leaders and thousands of others at the terminal who came to the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport to welcome them home.

The veterans returned about 7:45 p.m. from Washington aboard the sixth Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, after a day of viewing the World War II memorial and other monuments, and basking in the spotlight of national media attention.

Nearly 200 veterans and their guardians were met with barricades earlier Tuesday as they arrived at the World War II Memorial. The federal government shutdown closed all national parks, but it didn't stop the veterans from visiting the memorial created in their honor.

U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo met them at the memorial with a plan to move the barricade. Palazzo, who cast votes that helped lead to the shutdown, and U.S. Reps. Richard Nugent of Florida, Louis Gohmert of Texas and Spencer Bachus of Alabama walked through the crowd of more than 100 veterans from Mississippi and Iowa, as well as onlookers and reporters, to cut the yellow police tape and move the barricades to let the veterans enter the memorial they had flown from Gulfport to see.

"It's a sad day," Palazzo said. "We're doing our veterans a disservice not

allowing them inside.

"I'm here to celebrate this moment and see that they have the best day they possibly can."

Palazzo escorted Pascagoula veteran Donald Quinn through the barricades and toward the Mississippi column to lay a wreath, and passers-by who witnessed the ceremony applauded.

"It's amazing," Quinn said. He said he was just waiting by the barricades when he was given the wreath and escorted to the monument.

"I appreciated and enjoyed it."

Although all the veterans agreed they were glad to view the memorial, some were disappointed the shutdown had caused the barricades to be there in the first place.

"Having a barricade on government property is astounding, particularly when you have veterans that want to see it," Navy veteran Rayford Edgar of Water Valley said. "It's disappointing to everyone. During World War II, we felt we were doing our very best to protect our freedom. This needs to be settled between the House and Senate so we can make America the country it should be."

Army veteran Percy Scarborough of Petal agreed the dispute causing the shutdown needs to be resolved.

"If they can't work together, I think they should send them all home," he said. "There's no excuse for that, but I think our representatives did a good job of getting us in."

Palazzo spokeswoman Laura Chambers said the National Park Service refused to move the barricades and said Palazzo and other congressmen would have to move them at their own risk.

"They would not remove the barrier, but they would not stand in our way. We still don't know if there will be repercussions," Chambers said. "The congressman said it's better to ask forgiveness than permission."

"This is the best civil disobedience we've seen in Washington in a long time," U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan said in front of the Mississippi Tower of the World War II memorial.

The entire Honor Flight group was able to view the memorial, though the water fountains were turned off.

Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said the agency closed the memorial again after the Honor Flight veterans left.

She said it will be up to the National Park Police how to react if veterans keep trying to visit the memorial erected in their honor.

"I can say we always treat the veterans with respect," she said. "We will treat them with respect."

Johnson said safety is a major reason the memorial will be closed during the government shutdown. Rangers trained in first aid and CPR are normally on duty at the site, she said, but not during the shutdown.

The rangers are also there to protect the memorials from vandalism, Johnson said. She cited the incident over the summer of a woman spattering green paint on Washington landmarks, including the Lincoln Memorial.

"People are very disappointed, they don't understand why it is closed," said Johnson, standing in front of the World War II Memorial. "Some people are angry."

More than 3,500 Honor Flight veterans are scheduled to visit Washington in October, said Jim McLaughlin, chairman of the board for the Honor Flight Network.

He said it's too late to cancel the flights and the veterans will keep coming.

"Today they were able to get in and see the memorial," McLaughlin said Tuesday. "We're hoping the same will be true tomorrow."

The four buses carrying the veterans moved on through the nation's capital to the Air Force memorial, the Vietnam memorial and Arlington National Cemetery to view the changing of the guard and to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The excitement of the national media attention during the day made the homecoming to South Mississippi even sweeter for the Coast residents and their escorts.

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