Oct 06, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Volunteers and vets with Honor Flight Syracuse tore down a roadblock at the Iwo Jima Memorial and crossed the barrier at the Lincoln Memorial during their trip to Washington on Saturday, Oct. 5, refusing to let a government shutdown bar them from visiting national memorials to themselves, their comrades and their military branches of service.
“I opened the gate because I wanted to see Abraham Lincoln,” said Army veteran Vincent Bova, of East Syracuse, who walked through the barrier at the Lincoln Memorial, causing a huge rush of people to follow him and a large law enforcement response. “Why are they punishing us? They wanna play like little kids … the hell with them.”
“You don’t mess with vets or people helping vets,” said Jack Haggerty, of Skaneateles, an Honor Flight volunteer who helped remove the Iwo Jima roadblock.
“I thought we were going to have a confrontation. I was ready to get out and go!” said Duane “Bucky” Walters, a Navy vet of Camillus, at the Iwo Jima Memorial. “Who is the government? We are the government,” he said about the shutdown and the closing of services and the national parks. “If somebody said to me to join the militia right now, I would!”
Saturday’s trip was the second by Honor Flight Syracuse, an organization dedicated to honor America’s veterans by transporting them to Washington, D.C. to visit the national memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice at no cost to them. This trip had 62 World War II veterans from across central New York, along with 62 “guardians” – assistants (mostly family members) who traveled with each vet – and numerous Honor Flight staff and volunteers.
The veterans left Syracuse at 7 a.m. to fly to Washington D.C., where they were greeted at Reagan National Airport by a large crowd of citizens and politicians, and a band playing patriotic music. The veterans then traveled by bus to visit the World War II, Korean and Vietnam war memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Monument, the U.S. Air Force Monument, then a return flight to Syracuse that same evening. At Hancock International Airport, the veterans were greeted by a large welcome home ceremony of family, friends, politicians and citizens.
“It was just overwhelming,” said Army veteran Bill Pavlus, of Skaneateles. “So many people came up to me because of my hat [that said WWII veteran] to thank me. The welcome we received here [at Reagan airport], the motorcycle escort. A 15-year-old boy came up to me to thank me. He said ‘Thank you for your service, sir.’ It just struck me as wonderful.”
“I was overwhelmed by the reception we got when we came in. I almost broke into tears,” said Pat Heagerty, an Army vet from Manlius, who taught in the Fayetteville-Manlius school district for 35 years.
When the Honor Flight buses arrived at the World War II Memorial on the mall, nobody knew what to expect and whether or not the memorial would be closed to visitors due to the government shutdown, as has been reported in the national news all last week. The barriers were up, and a National Park Service ranger stationed at the entrance, but the barrier was easily moved aside and the vets streamed in to their memorial, with no government official telling them to stop. The same thing occurred at the Korean and Vietnam War memorials.
At the Lincoln Memorial, however, in between the Korean and Vietnam War memorials, the barricades were set at the bottom of the steps leading up to the Grecian Temple dedicated to the Civil War president. On the barricades were signs reading, “This site is CLOSED. Do not enter.” Hundreds of visitors were standing at the barricades or on the ground in front of the memorial, shading their eyes from the sun to look up and catch a glimpse of the marble Lincoln, taking pictures with zoom lenses fully extended and lamenting their inability to walk up the steps.
That’s when Army vet Bova, who served as an MP in the European Theatre in 1945 at age 18, decided to move aside the barrier and walk up the steps to see the president he greatly admires.
“Abraham Lincoln was a good man. He stopped all that nonsense about separating the races, and so did [President Harry ] Truman,” Bova said. “We’d have all died invading Japan if Truman hadn’t of dropped the bomb. Lincoln was a good man, and that’s why I wanted to see him.”
Sarah Johnston, a Navy vet from Syracuse who was with Bova at the Lincoln Memorial, said it was an exciting moment. “He moved the barricade and said, ‘Come on, let’s go.’ I was excited because I really wanted to go up there.”
Bova said he went up to see Lincoln and started talking with a congressman from Minnesota who went up there as well. “I talked to him and said, ‘Why don’t you settle this?” Bova said he told the congressman the Affordable Care Act — typically called “Obamacare” — was created by an elected president and elected Congress, and they should let the people have it and deal with the consequences rather than shut down the government over funding it. “He said the people didn’t want it.”
As Bova came down the Lincoln Memorial steps he saw the responding law enforcement officers coming up to make everyone up there leave. There were about two dozen capitol police and SWAT officers on foot, and six mounted horse patrol solders standing their mounts at the bottom of the steps.
“I said to the police, ‘What are you doing? We came all this way. They wouldn’t answer,” Bova said.
When the Honor Flight buses arrived at the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, the entry road was blocked by two wooden saw-horse barricades and two plastic traffic barriers filled with water. The three Honor Flight buses stopped, the drivers and trip volunteers poured out of the buses to remove them. The water-filled barriers were too heavy to move, so the volunteers poured the water out then moved the barriers aside to the cheers and amazement of the rest of the Honor Flight participants. The buses then drove up to the memorial’s parking area, followed by cars and other tour buses. There were no government employees or law enforcement personnel at the memorial.
“The guardians took it upon themselves to make sure their veterans saw all the monuments they wanted to see,” said Mike Gasapo, the “lead flight” person for the trip.
The remainder of the trip held no more acts of civil disobedience, but the vets were surprised at Reagan National Airport by more cheering crowds, 1940s music and dancers and a huge welcome home ceremony when they returned to Syracuse.
The receptions “just took my breath away,” said Leon “Rusty” Darling, an Army veteran from Moravia. “This was the best day I’ve had in 25 years.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.