Honor Flight group heads to D.C. amid shutdown

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. - A group of dozens of veterans from Kansas and Missouri will descend on Washington D.C. Wednesday with a military-style plan in place to see many of the city's most prominent war monuments – whether they're open or not.

With the federal government closed indefinitely, many of Washington D.C.'s most famous locations – the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and Smithsonian museums – are all inaccessible as well.

The veterans, flown to D.C. by non-profit organization Heartland Honor Flight, were set to see the national World War II Memorial as their first stop. But the open-air monument was closed to the public and organizers of the trip said there's a possibility they won't be able to get in on Wednesday.

"I have a very positive feeling that we are going to be very well received. But also holding out the possibility we could meet greater resistance," Mark Martin said, a volunteer on his eleventh mission to DC with the group.

On Tuesday morning, a veterans group from Mississippi arrived at the memorial to find it gated shut. With help from their local lawmakers they got it open, but there's worry the government could take a firmer stance on keeping closed monuments closed come Wednesday.

If that's the case, joked 89-year-old Navy veteran Peter Peterka, his group of aging warriors knows what to do.

"Let's say that I'm pushing a wheelchair of a friend. Open the gate! Open the gate! I'm coming through! Are they going to stop this wheelchair? No," Peterka deadpanned.

"It's been 70 years, but these men do have some experience getting though barricades, blockades, beaches, continents, oceans and taking care of things," Martin said, in a tone that made it unclear whether or not he was entirely kidding.

While a confrontation between veterans and any remaining memorial staff seems unlikely, Peterka said he and other vets traveling to the memorial for the first time know they may not get another chance to see the monument built in their honor – and they don't intend to let an inside-the-beltway standoff stop them.

"At 89 years old," Peterka said, "No. I don't think the government is ever going to get straightened out."

Members of the public are invited to a rally to send off the Honor Flight participants Wednesday morning at KCI's terminal A at 5:45 a.m. The group also encourages anyone who is interested to attend a homecoming rally for the returning group Thursday evening at KCI beginning at 9:15 p.m.

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