On Saturday morning, the stage was set at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for a battle of titans. If it had been promoted like a professional wrestling match, it would have been billed as “The Unstoppable Force against The Immovable Object.”
Willamette Valley’s Honor Flight program brought 50 World War II veterans for a long-planned visit to the WWII War Memorial. Their busses were escorted by a local group of veterans on Harley-Davidsons. A smattering of onlookers showed up to see what might happen. I was among the smatter.
Normally this sort of visit wouldn’t be remarkable. Honor Flight programs around the country have been providing these opportunities to veterans for years. The local chapter’s planning for this weekend began in April.
Nobody had planned for the government to be shut down, or for the shuttering of the war memorials to become a rallying point for both Republicans and Democrats. Any veteran will tell you that fighting a war always requires improvisation. As boxer Mike Tyson famously quipped, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face.”
Denying 80-year-old veterans an honorable visit to their memorial was that punch. Politicians scrambled to save face. U.S. Rep. and Tea Party darling Michele Bachman was outside, shaking hands in campaign-rally mode. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio was there too, but less conspicuously.
Republicans have seized on the closures as evidence of creeping tyranny: “How dare the President refuse to allow the people to visit their own monuments?” Democrats have tried to remind voters that Republicans are responsible for the government shutdown in the first place.
Wheel-chaired veterans who remember storming the shores of Normandy to liberate France were not deterred by some yellow “Do Not Cross” police tape. Government buckled quickly against this unstoppable force. Arrangements were made to allow park rangers to welcome these visitors as the special guests they were.
On the sidewalk outside the memorial, Bachman shook every hand, smiled for every camera, and insisted that she was fighting every day to protect our freedoms.
“Yesterday, we parked my car in the lot we always use,” she regaled. “The lot was marked closed, but we had our car with Congressional plates and we parked where we always do. They wrote us a parking ticket for 250 dollars!” She paused for effect. “We’re gonna fight it.”
If anyone was shocked at the juxtaposition of fighting World War II and fighting a parking ticket, they didn’t show it.
Meanwhile, DeFazio was inside the memorial, giving a flag and a certificate of appreciation to each veteran in the group, posing for photos and hearing quick stories. At an opportune moment, Willamette Valley Honor Flight Assistant Director John Brooks sidled up to DeFazio with a request.
“Mr. DeFazio, thank you for being here,” he said, “but I’ve got 100 people here and many of them have special needs. Is there any way you could arrange to get the bathrooms opened?”
The unstoppable force was confronting another unstoppable force. DeFazio excused himself from the photo-ops and walked straight to the park ranger monitoring the entrance. They had a quick conversation about keys, departments, security and maintenance.
DeFazio pivoted to one of his aides and said, “We’ve got to go back to the office and that’s the first call we’re making.” I lost sight of the indefatigable Congressman — another unstoppable force — after that, so I never learned whether his call came before nature’s for those veterans.
After years of pushing a wheelbarrow and a pooper scooper behind the Eugene Celebration parade’s slug, DeFazio is no stranger to the inglorious work of Congress.
He’d told me earlier that morning, “All I’ve been able to accomplish this week has been keeping Timberline Lodge open. Even though it’s run by a concessionaire, the feds wanted it closed because they couldn’t monitor their contractors. But if they closed it, they’d have to send security, so it made no sense.”
While Bachman was protecting basic rights (which must include parking), DeFazio was meeting basic needs. Unless you were up close, you could be forgiven for not seeing the difference.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs