Congress may not have been able to get its act together to avoid a government shutdown, but a couple hundred elderly veterans were able to avert it, at least temporarily, at the National World War II Memorial today.

About 200 veterans visiting from Mississippi as part of an honor flight pushed aside barricades around noon to enter the memorial site, even though it was closed because of the government shutdown. Another 150 veterans from Iowa also entered the memorial, according to National Mall spokeswoman Carol Johnson. (Honor flights are trips paid for by nonprofits and donations that fly veterans to see memorials.)

“We did not want to close it, but that is something we were instructed to do,” Johnson says. “We want people to be safe.” Johnson was not supposed to be working today, but once the vets stormed the memorial, she was called back in.

The Park Police on site reportedly didn’t do much to stop the veterans from entering. Lawmakers, including Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, helped the vets topple the barricades, according to Stars and Stripes. (Within a couple hours, the National Republican Campaign Committee had already turned the fracas into a political moment, proclaiming, dubiously, “DEMOCRATS SHUT DOWN WWII MEMORIAL. GREATEST GENERATION STORMS THROUGH ANYWAYS.”)

At around 1:45 p.m. the vets were gone but visitors were still streaming into the memorial, though Johnson said the memorial was technically and legally still closed and would be fully barricaded back up in a couple hours.

“We’re having discussions about what to do,” Johnson says.

Still, tourists who were shut out of all the other memorials and museums in the area were able to reap the benefits of the vets’ rebellion.

“Good for them,” said Frank Loiacono, a history buff who was visiting from Toronto. “It’s great for us that we get to come see [the World War II Memorial] but disappointing about the rest.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery