WASHINGTON — The government shutdown won't prevent more than 80 Oklahoma World War II veterans from traveling here to see their monument next week, as the carefully planned and expensive trip is too far along to cancel, a state representative said Thursday.
“We're very concerned about it and we're monitoring the circumstances hourly,” said state Rep. Gary Banz, who has been organizing Honor Flight trips for World War II veterans for four years.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford's office reported late Thursday that the House had passed five spending bills, including one to keep the National Park Service running. The measures now go to the Senate.
Banz said people from all over the country are heading to Oklahoma to serve as guides for the veterans on Tuesday's trip; many are family members who have purchased nonrefundable tickets, he said.
Banz, his wife and numerous other volunteers have been planning the details for months. This is the fourth Honor Flight from Oklahoma this year; 82 veterans are planning to come to Washington, and 21 of them are 90 or older. The total cost of the trip — paid with donations — is $100,000, Banz said.
The World War II Memorial on the National Mall may soon double as a symbol of the current shutdown because of widely reported scenes of veterans on Honor Flights confronting barricades this week and walking — or being wheeled — past them, with help from members of Congress.
Many lawmakers have reacted angrily to the National Park Service's closure of the memorial. Park Service employees have been allowing Honor Flight visitors through the barricades, but the fountain — a key feature of the memorial — has been turned off, and the restrooms have been closed.
“It's been done by the executive branch and the president to extract as much pain and inconvenience in a very public way,” said Banz, a Midwest City Republican.
“We, the people, are the ones who pay the price.”
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, who is planning to greet the Oklahoma veterans next week, blamed Democrats for opposing a Republican bill to reopen all national parks. Because of that, he said, “these brave heroes will be forced to visit an empty, closed memorial. They deserve to see their own memorial.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the Department of Interior “has made an accommodation for the Honor Flights and will grant access to the World War II Memorial.
“DOI will remain in contact with the Honor Flight organization to ensure that veterans scheduled to travel to D.C. are provided access to the memorial.”
Banz said the veterans normally have park police escorts, and have paid $1,000 to have that service next week, though he doesn't know whether it would be provided during a shutdown.
The escorts help the chartered buses navigate Washington traffic so they can easily get from the World War II Memorial to the Korean War Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima memorial and the Air Force memorial.
They deserve to see their own memorial.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford,,