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‘Sneaking’ into the WWII Memorial meant the world to these tourists

Veteran Robert Greene and his granddaughter Kasey stroll the World War II Memorial Tuesday. Photos by Cindy Huang

WASHINGTON — Robert Greene traveled a long way to celebrate his 88th birthday. The World War II and Korean War veteran — along with his son, Kelly, daughter-in-law Cathy, and granddaughter, Kasey — came all the way from Hayden Lake, Idaho, so that he could see the World War II Memorial. It was Greene’s first time in the nation’s capital.

“It’s all brand new to me. I’ll probably never had a chance to see it again,” he said.

He was lucky. Most tourists were turned away from visiting monuments Tuesday, the first day of a federal shutdown.
Visitors arrived to find “CLOSED” signs at the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo, the Lincoln Memorial and other parks and historic sites across the country.

By a stroke of luck, Greene arrived at the World War II Memorial after dozens of veterans who had been kept out from the memorial were escorted past the barriers by members of Congress so they could see the monument.

More than 125 veterans from Mississippi and Iowa arrived for a previously scheduled visit to the memorial Tuesday morning to find it barricaded by the National Park Service. Several members of Congress escorted them inside after cutting police tape and moving barriers that blocked the memorial.

Green says that the site should never have been barricaded because it holds memories of ” our sons and daughters who are not with us any more.”

The Santana family traveled all the way from Africa to be able to see the sites in Washington, D.C.

Walking around the memorial I had the chance to talk to other tourists who were lucky enough to sneak a visit while the barricades were still down.

I noticed Carlos Santana and his family bearing heavy frowns as they strolled around the site. The family had traveled from the southern African country Mozambique, said Santana, so his sons could see the pieces of American history. Carlos Jr., 14, and Darren, 8, had never been to the city before.

“Lincoln is a great man. I wanted to pay him a visit,” said Carlos Jr. The family told me that they don’t know the inside story about why these attractions closed. But they said, they are all greatly disappointed.

“It’s time. It’s money,” said Santana.

Matthew Howard, left, and Tony Ramon tie the knot at the national monument Tuesday.

While I was speaking with the Santana family, I noticed a gay couple exchanging marriage vows by the Pacific arch. The wedding official completed the ceremony only moments before police officers ushered all visitors out of the barricaded area Tuesday afternoon.

The couple were Matthew Howard, an active duty naval officer stationed at Norfolk, Va., and his partner Tony Ramon. Unable to get married in Virginia, the couple traveled to D.C. to tie the knot, only to have their plans thwarted by the shutdown. Court officials in D.C. have deemed marriages performed by the courts a non-essential activity. So brides and grooms will have to wait until after the shutdown. Hearing this news, Howard’s mother rushed to get their marriage license printed Monday and found a last minute official to perform the ceremony. The couple decided to say their vows by the memorial. They arrived in the nick of time and were able to hold an intimate ceremony at the serene monument.

“As far as the government shutdown and getting kicked out [of the memorial], I don’t care, I’m just elated we’re married now.” said Howard.

“It was a great moment. I was nervous and excited. I got to marry the love of my life,” said Ramon.

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