More than 130 Story County veterans embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials put up in their honor and national monuments they helped defend.
In the early fallout of a government shutdown, they were met with barricades and U.S. Park Police.
The memorials had been closed because of the shutdown.
“These veterans fought for this, for these freedoms,” said Creston High School graduate Jamie Miller. “For our government to deny them, it is unreal.”
Miller, 45, is a 1986 CHS graduate and has spent time in the Marine Corp and 22 years in law enforcement. He is currently working for the Ames Police Department.
He is the son of Butch Miller and Linda Pendegraft, both of Creston.
He has also been involved in the Story County Freedom Flight since it’s inception, helping fundraise and organize trips to the nation’s capitol for veterans in Story County. This group was a majority of World War II, Vietnam War and Korean War veterans.
“We caught wind when we landed in D.C. (early Tuesday morning) they might be closing the memorials down,” Miller said. “A lot of these veterans have never been there and a lot of them won’t make it back.”
Congress is responsible to pass spending bills that fund the government. If it doesn’t, many agencies do not receive funding. Programs like Social Security, active military and members of Congress still get paid.
The current holdup is House Republicans insist that any new spending bill needs provisions to hurt or reduce the funds the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more popularly known by its nickname, Obamacare. Senate Democrats are just as persistent it does not contain those elements.
The last government shutdown was in 1995 and lasted 21 days. Staff that work for the national monuments and memorials were sent home on government furlough and fences and guards were put up to block entry.
“Some of them were pretty fired up,” Miller said. “They were willing to go to jail to get in.”
Miller said the first action taken to get the veterans into the WWII monument was moving a couple of barriers.
“Once a couple of barricades got moved, it opened up the flood gates,” Miller said.
The fountains were not on, but Miller said it was an emotional moment for a lot of veterans seeing everything for the first time.
Miller added that park police staffed to guard the memorials did not actively try to stop the veterans from entering.
“I think they knew it was wrong that the memorials were closed,” Miller said.
Many congressman, including Fourth District Republican Congressman Steve King, were present to talk with the media and veterans. Some also helped Miller escort the Story County veterans.
Miller said they still couldn’t get close to the Lincoln Memorial, and they had to push wheelchairs across grass yards to get to the Iwo Jima Memorial — a tribute to U.S. Marine Corp.
“It doesn’t need to be turned into a political circus,” Miller said. “It just boils down to right and wrong.”
Miller said the most rewarding part of the day was getting to see the veterans have the opportunity to see the monuments for the first time and get to experience that life-long memory.