Veteran organizes march onto Gettysburg battlefield
The York Dispatch, Pa.
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — They met in Gettysburg's Lincoln Square and marched down Emmitsburg Road.
Their first rally point was at the high-water mark of the Confederacy, and the message was free of partisan politics.
"We're all Americans," said Joe Barnhart, a 36-year-old Paradise Township resident.
More than 100 people-including many veterans-ignored signs saying Gettysburg National Park was closed and walked on with American flags in hand, but were not stopped by nearby law enforcement.
A member of the Army National Guard for 18 years, Barnhart said he organized the march toward the Pennsylvania Monument on Sunday to raise awareness about the government shutdown, treatment of veterans and overall trajectory of the country.
"We want to tell the government, 'If we can come together as vets and make something happen, why can't you?'" he said.
Barnhart is proud of his service to the country, including his tour in Iraq, and he said it's not fair the way veterans are being treated. He recently watched on television as World War II veterans visited memorials in Washington, D.C., and has long been frustrated by the backlog at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"If the greatest generation took a stand, mine needed to take a stand too," he said.
Local veterans, bikers and a handful of Indianapolis residents who traveled to Gettysburg for the event, carried signs to share a similar message.
"It's shenanigans. As members of the military, we signed up and said we'd do this (fight for our country). The government is not holding up their end. Now we're telling them we're tired of your shenanigans," Barnhart said.
He and his fellow marchers agreed there was plenty of blame to go around.
"It's Republicans and Democrats. The guys in (Washington), D.C., can't get along. In the Army, we say we don't leave any fallen comrades. Right now, it feels like the government is leaving us behind," Barnhart said.
Veteran Andrew Person said he feels like it's money and time being wasted.
Person, a 36-year-old Harrisburg resident, served three tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan.
"I'm upset we're paying lawmakers to work for us and turn the wheels for our country, and they're not doing their jobs," he said.
The Veterans Affairs department said it would not be able to pay benefits if the government remained closed through Tuesday, including to those who receive disability, GI Bill payments and survivor benefits.
As of Nov. 1, Veterans Affairs will not be able to pay approximately 3.8 million beneficiaries who are expecting checks, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said last week.
Because of the 435,000 veterans already facing a wait time of more than 200 days in the Veterans Affairs' backlog will now have to wait even longer for their disability claims to be processed.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to fund Veterans Affairs as a bargaining chip, but the Senate didn't vote on the bill because the senators favor a plan that reopens the entire government.
"It's not right. The veterans who signed up for this country should get benefits, and everyone should be able to visit our national parks. This is our land," Person said.
Charles Marass, an 88-year-old Gettysburg resident and Navy veteran, said he agrees the government is hurting its own people.
"They are acting like they have to do this. No they don't. They were elected to run the country, not shut it down," he said.
Marass said he was motivated to attend the march in Gettysburg when he realized Veterans Affairs couldn't pay death benefits.
"They died for a country that won't pay them benefits. That's not the sign of a good, stable government," he said.
The government should act as the marchers did on Sunday, Marass said.
"It wasn't about what party we were with. It was all done in harmony. All Republicans and Democrats should get along the same," he said.