Vets worried shutdown will keep them from WWII Memorial - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Vets worried government shutdown will keep them from WWII Memorial

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Gaetano Benza, 88, has been waiting to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington. (FOX5) Gaetano Benza, 88, has been waiting to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington. (FOX5)
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Gaetano Benza, 88, never shies away from talking about the time he served his country during World War II.

"My steel helmet on to protect [my] head, and your M1, and you hold that up - and you've got to get to that beach," Benza recalled the difficulties of the D-Day landings.

In 1944, he was part of the 505th Port Battalion, which helped get equipment and tanks on shore during the D-Day invasion.

As the greatest generation gets older, Benza's unit is shrinking. So, too, is his time to see the World War II Memorial in Washington. The shutdown of the federal government prompted the closure of the memorial. Police have blocked entrances with barricades.

"To have them say, ‘Sorry, we can't let you in here,' well, you know that's just kind of a slap in the face to me," Benza said.

Benza is one of 35 local World War II veterans who will be getting a free trip to Washington in two weeks through Honor Flight Southern Nevada.

Now that the government has shut down, that organization is scrambling for a contingency plan if Congress doesn't reach a resolution.

"The Iwo Jima Memorial is closed. That's on our agenda. The Vietnam Memorial is closed, the Korean War Memorial closed - those are all on our itinerary," Belinda Morse, a volunteer organizer for Honor Flight Southern Nevada, said.

But Benza and the others have hope as several vets in Washington on Tuesday simply removed the barricades and viewed the memorial anyway.

It's something the southern Nevada group prays will continue.

"These gentlemen haven't had the opportunity to see their memorial. That's the only reason they go," Morse said.

Meanwhile, Benza has this message for Congress.

"Come on, guys, let's get together and let's do something. After what we've done for the United States, I'm sure, I'm sure somehow that you can make exceptions," Benza said.

Morse said Honor Flights are scheduled for this time of the year because it's not too hot or too cold for the senior citizens.

With flights coming from all over the country, Morse said there's going to be up to 3,000 World War II vets coming to Washington in October, with 900 expected this week alone.

Morse said the trip will go on as planned regardless of whether the shutdown has been resolved or not.

Copyright 2013 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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