When we hit Washington, D.C., on a Friday in late September it had only been four days earlier on Monday that a deranged man killed 12 people and wounded four others in a shooting rampage at the Naval Yard. When we left a couple of days later it would be just 11 days before D.C. law enforcement personnel fatally shot a woman who had attempted to breach barricades near the White House and U.S. Capitol — both areas we had passed by.
When I brought up to Teresa that our trip had been sandwiched between two deadly events in our nation’s capital, she just said, “Thank you, Lord.”
We traveled with a group of veterans — many of them senior citizens — who had fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. By the end of our first day of touring monuments, the hours of walking and standing on concrete had taken their toll. A few of the older members of the Marine Corps League detachment had to use walkers and wheelchairs to remain mobile.
But Washington was wide open to us. Even after supper at a Hard Rock Cafe I was able to walk just a few steps and see the Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was shot, and the lodging place across the street where he was taken before dying. Trying to imagine what it was like 148 years ago when Lincoln was carried across the street was challenging, and I had to try and remember scenes from historical documentaries and movies since the belching tour buses and concrete and steel around me shut out the past.
Our tour guide told us the World War II Memorial was special. Many of the men who fought in that epic conflict have been reticent to talk about their experiences of seeing their friends slaughtered by artillery shrapnel in a foxhole or on a ship, or just a bullet with their name on it. But after their visit to the memorial erected in their honor, with its expansive pool, fountains and mini-monuments with each state’s name, they begin to open up and talk about it. That allows healing of many old wounds, emotional or otherwise, our guide said.
And yet, because of a misguided policy in the wake of our recent “government shutdown,” several of these 80- and 90-year-old veterans — who knew and whose families knew it would be their only chance to go there — were kept from experiencing their own memorial. On the orders of their superiors, National Park police set up barbwire barricades to keep out these vets who sacrificed above and beyond the call of duty.
Days later, we learned the Department of Defense will not pay “death benefits” to five families whose loved ones were just killed in the war on terror overseas. A foundation had to step in and make it possible for them to retrieve their sons and a daughter.
As the “shutdown” continued, a story that hit newspapers across the country told of “Gestapo like” tactics by park officers at Yellowstone, who kept seniors from leaving the lodge in this beloved national park — and led some foreign tourists to believe they were under house arrest. Back east, the federal Blue Ridge Parkway remained open, but authorities tasked with patrolling it blocked off the parking area of a privately owned lodge on private property so overnight lodgers could not check in.
This is not just politics at its worst. This is not just disgusting.
It’s shameful — and dishonorable.
When the leadership of a free country decides to make its citizens suffer and blames it on the opposition political party, we have sunk to a new low. Scholars have noted the Hebrew word “hesed” is difficult to translate, but one interpretation that has been accepted says it means to show mercy, especially from one of higher stature to one of less import. It’s not the same as the French phrase “noblesse oblige,” where the nobility condescendingly hands out favors to lesser folk because they are obliged to.
Show “hesed,” political leaders. The sacrifices wartime veterans made and continue to make — and the hard-earned dollars you take from the American people in taxes — make your positions possible. Your recognition of that, and your responsibility to treat all of us fairly and civilly, can only show good on you now ... and later.
Update: On Oct. 10 this sign appeared at the entrance to the World War II Memorial: “Due to the Federal Government shutdown, this National Park Service area is closed, except for 1st Amendment activities.”
If you agree in front of a park ranger you’re there to exercise your right as an American to move around the country freely — including our nation’s capital — you’ll be allowed to pass through the still-standing barbwire barricade.
Mark Millican is a former Daily Citizen staff writer.