WASHINGTON -- Lloyd Grace, an 89-year-old Navy veteran, called his visit to the National World War II Memorial "an extraordinary experience."
But it was an experience he and 90 other World War II veterans were almost denied.
When his group arrived Tuesday at the National World War II Memorial after traveling more than 1,000 miles from southern Mississippi, they were greeted with barricades and signs alerting them that the site was closed.
"We were very afraid we weren't going to be able to get onto the site," said Kimberly Foster-Moody, president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, a nonprofit group that raised $90,000 to bring the veterans to the capital.
The memorial, managed by the National Park Service, was among the many government-run D.C. destinations closed to the public Tuesday after Congress failed to reach a budget agreement the night before.
When the 87 male and four female veterans arrived, fresh off a flight from Gulfport, Miss., "We were told we were not going to be able to go into the memorial," Foster-Moody said.
But with Mississippi congressmen on site, and a handful of U.S. legislators from other states and other officials present, their luck changed.
"After a few phone calls, they said they were going to go ahead and open up the gate," Foster-Moody said.
Four of Mississippi's Capitol Hill contingent -- Reps. Alan Nunnelee, Steven Palazzo and Gregg Harper, and Sen. Roger Wicker, all Republicans -- greeted the veterans, later posting messages and photos on Twitter of the group inside the memorial's grounds.
"They were delighted to be there and appreciative of everyone's efforts," Wicker said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. "I appreciate the park service not making a stand. It would have been a mistake, it would have been unfortunate and utterly unnecessary."
The National Park Service could not be immediately reached for comment.
Overall, Wicker said, "The heroes from World War II were allowed to visit their memorial -- a good result."
"The crowds were so welcoming and the whole atmosphere was just wonderful," Grace said.
However, other visitors might not get the same luck. Foster-Moody said it was not the National Park Service that eventually let the group into the memorial, although she was not sure how the barricades eventually came down.
"I believe they were going to close it right after they left," she said, "and they weren't going to reopen it today, no."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun