Two 90-year-old World War II veterans from Montana defied a barrier that closed the Lincoln Memorial and climbed the stairs to see the marble statue.
A.L. Frederick of Billings, who was named after the 16th president, told The Billings Gazette on Sunday he was privileged to walk up to the memorial.
“I was defending America — again,” Fredrick said. “I see my freedoms being nibbled away.”
Frederick and William Cernohlavek were assisted up the stairs Sunday by veterans of the Vietnam War and the Korean War as onlookers cheered and U.S. Park Police looked on. The officers advised the veterans of the laws and possible consequences, but added that they had discretion when it came to enforcing the law.
“It’s their right to go up,” said park police officer S.R. Kellenberger. “They served their country.”
The two men are among 83 Montana veterans who traveled to Washington, D.C., this weekend as part of the seventh Big Sky Honor Flight.
Albert Tesch, 88, of Choteau, said he was disappointed that he had to view the Lincoln Memorial from the ground level, but found it impressive.
On Monday, Park Police officers helped Big Sky Honor Flight committee members move barriers at the World War II memorial. The veterans were greeted by Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Rep. Steve Daines.
“The government workers wouldn’t dare keep us out, given the sacrifices the Greatest Generation gave during World War II,” James Kane, 90, of Red Lodge, told the Gazette (http://bit.ly/1gflvHy ). “There were so many men sacrificed and so few of us left.”
Baucus, Tester and Daines each spent at least an hour at the memorial, posing for photos with any veteran who wanted one, the Gazette reported.
However, park police at the FDR Memorial weren’t as accommodating. Bus drivers were threatened with arrest if they crossed police lines, the Gazette reported.
Veterans who wanted to visit the memorial had to make the long walk into the memorial on their own, a difficult task for many of the men in their late 80s and early 90s.
One vet in a wheelchair, Charles Schweiger, collected as a souvenir a piece of the yellow tape with the words “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS.”
The veterans were greeted at Washington Dulles International Airport on Sunday by Boy Scouts, school groups and others. The Mount Vernon Community Band played patriotic songs. Someone brought a Montana State flag.
The veterans were able to tour the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Sunday.
After visiting the World War II memorial, the group stopped at Arlington National Cemetery. They also were to visit the Iwo Jima Memorial before flying home Monday evening.
Just over 600 Montana veterans have taken part in the Big Sky Honor Flight program and at least 105 remain on a waiting list.
Montana’s next Honor Flight is scheduled for April 2014.
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