Republican Congressman Steve King this afternoon said he “intentionally distracted” a park service guard this morning so World War II veterans from Mississippi and then Iowa could see their memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“It was important to get a read on, a sense on what might happen,” King said during a telephone conference call with reporters. “And, you know, nobody would want to put a guard that likely sympathized with our veterans in a position that they didn’t want to be in and I went over there as a diplomat to resolve the issue and while I was over there, the gate was opened.”

About 90 Mississippi veterans, many in wheelchairs, flooded through the opened barricade, following a man in a kilt playing a bagpipe.

“To see the look on their faces when the bagpipes came and the gate opened…There were people up along the wall that were cheering and clapping,” King said. “I would say there might have been a hard enough heart somewhere but, generally speaking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

An “Honor Flight” group of 150 Iowans from Story County arrived at the memorial about 40 minutes later. The National Park Service oversees the National Mall and its memorials. Barricades were erected overnight around the mall, signalling a closure associated with the government shutdown. King directly blames President Obama for ordering those barricades.

“This is a completely spiteful act on his part and, you know, I would have thought that locking school kids out of the White House as a protest against his idea of sequestration was about as bad as it gets, but this one takes the cake,” King said.

Troy Price, the executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party, calls King’s statement “shameful.”

“What today’s event in DC boils down to is that Steve King is trying to act like a hero in a problem that he ultimately caused,” Price said in a written statement. “…If King hadn’t voted to shut down the government, these veterans would have simply enjoyed their tour of the monuments rather than getting caught up in King’s political scheme to drive the nation off the cliff.”

According to King, one of his staff members who’s been on the National Mall this afternoon tells him the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the World War II Memorial are open for visitors. CNN reports Iowa Senator Tom Harkin was at the World War II Memorial this morning, too, before the Iowans arrived — trying to phone Park Service officials to ask that the barricades be removed.

AUDIO of conference call, 25:00

As for the government shut-down, Congressman King said “good things” have come from these kind of showdowns in the past and he says Republicans are “more unified” today than there were yesterday on the eve of the shut-down.