Shutdown limits public interaction for Kansas WWII vets in D.C.

Although World War II veterans have enjoyed seeing their memorials during their trips to the nation’s capital, organizers say the highlight of the experience are pats on the back and thank-yous from the public.

About two dozen Kansas vets will miss out on that interaction this week when they visit the WWII memorial because the ongoing federal government shutdown has closed the memorial to the public.

“We’ve received permission to take the veterans to the memorial,” said Mike VanCampen, who heads up Kansas Honor Flight, which organizes the trip. “But we’ll be the only ones in there. The public is shut out.”

Over the past year, the Hutchinson-based group has taken more than 250 WWII veterans on an Honor Flight. Many more went on those flights in previous years with a Great Bend-based organization, which is no longer operating.

“After these trips, the veterans talk about how they appreciated the public’s response more than anything,” VanCampen said. “These guys won’t get patted on the back or have school children coming up to them to thank them. They’re going to miss that joy.”

Nineteen WWII vets will fly out of Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday and will return at 8:20 p.m. Friday. Another seven vets on the same trip will fly out of Kansas City International Airport.

Although the veterans will be allowed to go to the WWII memorial, the fountains won’t be on and the bathrooms will be closed.

“That’s a problem for these older gentlemen,” VanCampen said.

The vets also won’t be allowed to make the usual stop for a flag ceremony at Fort McHenry, which also is closed by the shutdown.

They will be able to visit Arlington National Cemetery, but the solemn nature of that stop doesn’t allow for public interaction, VanCampen said.

Kansas Honor Flight will make a final trip this year from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, when Korean War veterans will be on the flight for the first time, VanCampen said.

There is no charge for the veterans, although they must be accompanied by someone. Cost for the non-veteran is about $700.

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