Honored US veterans dragged into mud of budget fight
Washington: The wars of the last century took them to the beaches of Normandy and the highlands of Korea, but now the US veterans of the Greatest Generation have been dragged into one more bitter battle.
Vets convening on Washington`s National Mall to visit war memorials were first confronted by barriers and then were recruited as referees in a scrap between Congress and protesters.
The Second World War Memorial and other sites on the two mile long stretch of turf are maintained by the National Parks Service, which has been closed as part of a government shutdown.
On Tuesday, one party of war survivors pushed aside barriers to gain access to the granite rotunda of the memorial and hold a service in honour of fallen comrades.
Images of the determined but dignified display shot around the world, and Republican lawmakers seized the moment to push their own case in the battle with President Barack Obama.
Polls show that most of the public blames the Republican-led Congress for the shutdown. But was it not the federal government`s park rangers who were blocking access to the memorials?
Republican politicians descended on the Mall to "pay tribute to those who fought for our freedom" -- as did protesters angry that they might exploit the veterans in order to score political points.
The result was a theatrical media spectacle.
"We didn`t get that kind of welcome when we got back from Korea," marvelled Gene Winslow, at 82-year-old veteran of the Korean War from Independence, Missouri.
And was he convinced by the lawmakers` argument that it was Obama`s intransigence and not theirs that triggered the shutdown? Not really.
"They`re not doing their job. We elected them to do a good job and they don`t do it. It`s just a bunch of big babies, they need to be swept out and a new bunch brought in, as far as I am concerned," he said.
Yesterday, the olive green-uniformed rangers were not trying to impede access to the memorial, and a group of veterans were there to sing Amazing Grace and salute the dead.
"This is a First Amendment activity," said the National Park Service`s Carol Johnson, citing every American`s constitutional right to freedom of speech and assembly.
"Anyway, if the shutdown continues, I`ll be on leave starting tomorrow," she shrugged.
But the disappearance of the barriers did not stop Republicans from trying to make political mileage out of the situation.
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