Despite a federal government shutdown closing national parks and memorials, a group of World War II veterans from South Mississippi are visiting the national memorial built in their honor.
More than seven dozen WWII veterans taking part in the Honor Flight were scheduled to visit the monument, but the federal government shutdown put those plans in limbo. When the veterans arrived Tuesday morning, metal barricades blocked the entrance to the open air memorial. But the group pushed past the temporary gates and walked in.
Many of the veterans said before leaving Gulfport that all the uncertainty surrounding the itinerary wasn't going to spoil the trip.
"I don't care," veteran Alex Mike Pitalo said on the eve of the flight. He was just glad to get an opportunity to be with fellow World War II soldiers, airmen, and sailors.
Mississippi's 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo wrote a letter to President Obama Monday asking that he instruct the Department of Interior and National Park Service to ensure that the Honor Flight veterans would have access to the monuments on the National Mall.
"It is the very least we can do for our Greatest Generation who sacrificed so much on behalf of our country," Palazzo wrote.
Congressman Palazzo was among those at the WWII Memorial greeting the veterans Tuesday morning.
Kimberly Foster-Moody is president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight. She told WLOX News the changes to the itinerary made the last few days very hectic. But she was confident the veterans would have an amazing experience in DC.
Pitalo will be just as thrilled when the Honor Flight returns to Gulfport on Tuesday night.
"I appreciate you people and the people that come out, and give us an ovation," he said. "I never have had that. We came home after WWII, we just came home and went to work."
The Honor Flight is due to return to Gulfport around 7:00 Tuesday night. And South Mississippians are invited to Gulfport Biloxi International Airport to welcome home the World War II heroes.
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