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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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October 2nd, 2013
05:54 PM ET

‘We were determined to go through’: Veterans allowed to visit World War II Memorial

They came from Missouri and Illinois, approximately 200 veterans, mostly of World War II, a few from Korea.

And while they had heard the World War II Memorial might be closed because of the partial government shutdown, for men who had stormed the beaches at Normandy and fought in the Pacific, a few Park Service barricades were not going to be a problem.

Not for guys like Robert White, who fought the Japanese while a Marine.

"I'm a Marine, we would have got in here one way or the other," White said with a laugh.

Or Buddy Schmidt, who was with the Army in Europe.

"We were determined to go through one way or the other," said Schmidt. "I tell all my friends back home that we came up here to D.C. to get the government straightened out."

"On the bus, we didn't know if we were going to be here or not," said Gus Stiegler, who fought with the Army in Europe.

He said he is thankful he and the other veterans got in.

On Tuesday, some of their fellow veterans broke through barricades that the National Park Service had put up – even though the World War II Memorial website says the open-space memorial is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week

On Wednesday, however, they were welcomed with open arms.

They flew into D.C. with Honor Flights, a group that flies older veterans and those gravely ill to visit the memorials perhaps for their only time.

Though the memorial remains officially closed, the National Park Service said in a statement it would not keep Honor Flight members from entering the site.

"Congress just ain't doing their job. That's the only thing I'll say. They just need to work to come together for the country," said Don Mueller, who served in the Air Force during Korea.

"I'm concerned about the Senate, the representatives, and the Democrats just fighting one another. They're not getting nothing done," said Navy veteran Gaza Bodnar, who served in Okinawa.

Beyond the media circus, the politics and the blame game Wednesday was about honoring those who did not make it back.

Men like Eugene Decker, a Marine who fought at Guadalcanal and Saipan.

"I just wanted to see what it looked like," said Decker, whose eyes welled with tears and emotion. "I'm glad they've got the boys' names are up there, because i lost an awful lot of good men," said Eugene Decker, a former Marine who fought at Guadalcanal and Saipan.

"There were some damn good men lost there, I mean good men. We got to those islands and (the Japanese) didn't want us, but we took them anyhow. And I'd do it again if I was able," he said.

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