On Sunday across America, NFL fans were watching their teams battling it out. In one tight matchup, two star quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo, went down to the final two seconds of a tie game at 48-48 with Denver finally winning on a field goal. On Saturday, a classic pitching duel was taking place in Oakland in MLB (Major League Baseball) playoffs between the Oakland A's young Sonny Gray and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. But to members of the U.S. military overseas who look so forward to watching these games on the American Forces Network as respite from their duties on protecting us from terrorism, they were blocked from seeing them due to the government shutdown.
Things weren't much better for an eighth grade class from Seattle that saved for months to take a history lesson trip to Washington, D.C. to tour the monuments on National Mall. Instead, they were met with hastily set up fences telling visitors to keep out.
The government shutdown has taken its toll on more than 800,000 federal workers across America. But it's America itself and its iconic symbols that are also the victims. The dramatic Lincoln Memorial: shut. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where families can pay their last respects to their sons who never came home: closed.
The World War Two Memorial, where the last, aging survivors of the Greatest Generation can come to honor their country for the last time -- now fenced up. We've seen the images of the 80- and 90-somethings -- even a 97-year-old vet -- in wheelchairs or walking with canes being allowed through to see *their* monument. There are only 1.2 million World War Two vets left of the 16 million who once served. They are dying at a rate of 600 a day and have little time left to see their a beautiful memorial dedicated to their service. But the crackdown continues. Why?
Remember after the 9/11 terrorist attack there was this collective, urgent need to show the world America never closes down for anything? We hurried back to business, getting flights in the air and opening the New York Stock Exchange to show no terrorists or entity would ever shut our doors. In 2013, all it takes is squabbling members of Congress and the president to cause symbolic America to come to a standstill. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. And most infuriating to me, the World War Two cemetery and memorial in Normandy, France.
Young soldiers from the grasslands of Kentucky to the cement streets of New York went there to liberate the world. They scaled the most high, unimaginable sheer cliffs only to be stopped by the Germans' bayonets to an early death. Or their rubber boats ripped up and sabotaged as they stormed the shore. The rows upon rows of simple white marble crosses told the story of their brief lives. 18 years old. 19. 21. Visiting Normandy was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I walked the beaches of Utah and Omaha barefoot in the rain, stepping in the sand on hallowed ground where the blood of more than six thousand American soldiers was shed. It reinforced my pride in being an American and cemented the sacrifices those very young soldiers made in my heart. Please don't close it. Let others in every single day to let them know their lives were not wasted. At 18 and 19, first time away from home, they saved the world.
I've been fortunate to visit all the memorials and even the White House, now closed to sequester, twice, as recently as December. The first time, I saw a gray-haired man playing fetch with a dog in the garden. It was President Clinton and first dog Buddy. It was always on my bucket list to see the White House at Christmas all elaborately decorated. I got the chance last December. But now no one can enter the doors of the People's House.
These monuments, parks, cemeteries and buildings are not only symbols of American greatness, they belong to the People. These are OUR monuments. They don't belong to Congress. I believe those who live and work in Washington, D.C. see them all the time and take them for granted when the truth is, most Americans will never see them or get just one chance in their lifetime. And for many during the past week of shutdown, that time has passed.
I made acquaintance with Leo Shane, a writer for Stars & Stripes magazine, this past week. He was at the closed World War II memorial when the first Freedom Flight of 92 veterans from Mississippi came in. He explained a shutdown means all non-essential government operations need to be stopped, and national parks are considered non-essential because they don't deal with public health and safety. I know volunteers would gladly help, but there's insurance and protecting government property involved. The Lincoln Memorial was recently vandalized with green paint.
But the whole world is watching. And can't understand what's happening in the USA. Why not have Congress continue their bickering, but allow the iconic symbols of America to remain open because, nothing -- no person or group -- should ever close them? And put up fences and barricades to block where noble men and women have served? For heaven's sake, what's the purpose? It only denies Americans their inalienable rights to share and witness part of our rich history.
So like Reagan to Gorbachev, I ask: Mr. President, tear down these walls. Tear down these fences and bolts around the monuments that were put up last week. They don't belong to you; or Congress; or Republicans or Democrats. They belong to me out here in Sacramento, CA or to those eighth graders in Seattle or those Freedom Flight vets from Mississippi.
Keep your shutdown going if you must, but like those World War Two vets who liberated the world at Normandy, it is time to liberate We the People. Our soldiers are facing death and IEDs every day. Let them kick back with feet up after a long shift and see something other than black and white static on TV. Let them reconnect to home through the pass of a football or swing of the bat. Let us have our memorials back.
Originally published in the Huffington Post, Oct. 8, 2013