Troy veteran: "I don't understand" why World War II Memorial is still closed

Posted at: 10/14/2013 8:07 PM
Updated at: 10/14/2013 8:20 PM
By: Steve Flamisch

Josephine Smith followed her brother, Sonny, into World War II. Only she came home.
Josephine Smith followed her brother, Sonny, into World War II. Only she came home.
Photo: Mark Szpylczyn / WNYT

GRAFTON -- Josephine Smith followed her brother, Sonny, into World War II. Only she came home.

Smith, of Troy, was stationed at Fort Myer, Va. and rose to the rank of corporal in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. Sonny was shot down over the South Pacific. His body was never recovered.

"He was only 19 and he was such a joy," Smith said Monday. "It seems like it was yesterday this came -- that was 1943 -- but it does seem like yesterday because I think about it quite alot."

Smith was thinking about her brother when she took a Patriot Flight to Washington, DC to visit the World War II Memorial. She said it was an "emotional" trip.

That was two years ago.

For the past two weeks, the memorial has been closed due to the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government. Veterans are not allowed in.

"Why don't they want them to go and see these things?" Smith asked. "What would be the reason? What is the reason for them not going in there and seeing all these things?

The National Park Service blames staffing, noting that the employees who maintain the World War II Memorial are furloughed because of the shutdown.

That explanation does not satisfy the protestors who clashed with police outside the White House gates Sunday, or the veterans who joined Smith for the Heroes at Home picnic Monday at Grafton Lakes State Park.

"My heart bleeds for the Second World War veterans," Retired U.S. Marine Corps First Sgt. Donald Smith, a Vietnam veteran, told NewsChannel 13. "To limit them from seeing their own monuments... That's difficult."

Army National Guard Maj. Joel Abelove, the director of veteran and family services for Heroes at Home, called the closure "unfortunate."

"To think of that generation -- those men and women who fought so bravely and so courageously for our freedom -- to not be able to go and see the memorial that honors them is a very difficult thing to stomach for all vets," Abelove said.

Many veterans have gone around the barricades at the memorial -- often at the urging of individual lawmakers --and that appears to be the plan Saturday. Several local World War II veterans are planning to take an Honor Flight to Washington.

"Arrangements have been made to allow us to move the barriers to allow our vets to enter the memorial," Honor Flight President Greg Furlong said in a press release.

In the end, Josephine Smith said the barriers should not be there in the first place.

"I just don't understand," Smith said. "So they don't have the staff? People can behave. They're just going to go to look around at all those wonderful things. I had the opportunity. I was very fortunate."