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Honor Flight drivers threatened with arrest at FDR Memorial

Honor Flight drivers threatened with arrest at FDR Memorial

Bus drivers carrying Montana veterans to visit memorials on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Monday were threatened with arrest for crossing police barricades.

The veterans were part of the ongoing Big Sky Honor Flights to the nation’s capital.

Many of the sites the veterans were scheduled to visit were closed because of the federal government shutdown.

At the World War II memorial earlier in the day, barricades were removed so the aging veterans — many of them in their late 80s and early 90s — could tour the site. On Sunday, several veterans also ignored barriers and closed elevators at the Lincoln Memorial and climbed the steps to see the statue.

But later Monday, buses that crossed road barricades to visit the FDR Memorial — the last stop of the veterans’ 36-hour whirlwind tour — were ordered away by National Park police.

“You can’t drive in here,” an officer told one bus driver. “If you drive in here, that’s when you’re going to get arrested.”

Veterans who wanted to visit the memorial had to make the long walk on their own, a difficult task for many.

One defiant veteran in a wheelchair, Charles Schweiger, held a souvenir piece of the yellow “Do Not Cross” tape that police had put up to block the memorial.

After being confronted by police, one of the bus drivers, Ralph Herndon, tried to calm the situation by telling officers the buses were filled with World War II veterans.

"I wish Congress could get their act together. I think every memorial and monument should be opened to World War II vets,” Herndon said.

The officer replied that he, too, was a veteran and that he had to enforce the law.

Bill Kennedy, a Yellowstone County Commissioner and one of the organizers of the Big Sky Honor Flight, said the purpose of the trip was to honor veterans.

“The absurdity today of making our World War II veterans walk another two blocks just to meet their bus was ridiculous,” Kennedy said. “Someday, I hope common sense comes back to Washington, D.C.”

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Big Sky Honor Flight’s seventh tour to the World War II Memorial and other national monuments coincides with a federal government shutdown.

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