Federal shutdown doesn’t stop WWII veterans’ Honor Flight
MERRILLVILLE — They fought for our freedom.
And now, seven decades later, there was no way anyone was going to deny them the right to visit the memorial erected in their honor, not even during a government shutdown.
While the federal government shutdown has forced all national monuments and parks to close to the public, Merrillville’s Bob Lamken and other World War II veterans were able to visit the World War II Monument and other historic sights in the nation’s capitol this week.
Lamken, 90, joined 90 other World War II veterans for an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. on Tuesday through Honor Flight Chicago, a group which helps World War II veterans visit the nation’s capital.
“It was a real interesting day. I shook hands with more than 1,000 people,” Lamken said. “Some people from Congress and the Senate were there to see that we got in. There were no problems at all.”
But according to Mary Pettinato, CEO of Honor Flight Chicago, the day almost didn’t go as smoothly as it turned out.
“The day before, a different Honor Flight went through the barricades to see the World War II Memorial. We were told that was an anomaly and wouldn’t happen again. We were told the people in charge of our group would be arrested if we tried,” Pettinato said.
She said she told the veterans scheduled on the flight that it could get ugly and asked them how they felt about going.
“One man said, ‘I stormed the beaches of Normandy and I’m going to be bothered by this?’” Pettinato said. “He said he saw two men die in an embrace, both with their heads blown off.”
Fortunately, she said the police guarding the national monuments changed their minds Tuesday morning, but only for the World War II Memorial and only for the World War II veterans.
Lamken served in the U.S. Coast Guard aboard the USS El Paso, a patrol frigate rigged to detect submarines and protect convoys.
“We went through a lot of batles,” Lamken said.
National Park Service representatives could not be reached for comment. The voicemail for a Park Service spokeswoman said last week that she was furloughed due to the government shutdown and couldn’t check her messages.
Pettinato said the group went to the private Newseum, which showed daily newspapers and photos, instead of the Korean, Lincoln and Vietnam memorials, and to Arlington Cemetery and the Air Force Museum, which she said were open.
For Lamken, it was an exciting, whirlwind day that began at 3 a.m. and ended after 10 p.m., when he left the airport.
“There were soldiers and sailors lined up and people on the sidelines saying, ‘USA, USA,’” Lamken said.
“Every time we sat down there was something to drink or eat in front of us. I had so much food,” Lamken said.
He took photos at the grave site of war hero and actor Audie Murphy, enjoyed the photos at the Newseum and the beautiful songs that a woman sang at Midway Airport.
On the way home, the veterans received mail call, letters from family members and school children.
“They said we were all heroes,” Lamken said.
Pettinato said the group of veterans from the Chicago area were met in Washington, D.C. by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and several members of Congress, all from Illinois.
“At that moment, it wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats. They were all there to shake hands and honor America’s war heroes,” she said.
She said another Honor Flight will leaving from Chicago Oct. 30. World War II veterans interested in attending a flight can call (773) 227-8387.