Tenacity Dead at 77

Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha slipped away without fanfare February 8 at a Northern Virginia Hospital from complications following gall bladder surgery.

Better known as the King of Pork than for his Marine Corps roots, Murtha was our target for good-natured comments here at Inside the Headquarters. “Live like no one is watching” is what we will take away from John Murtha, though we think the venerable lawmaker lived like everyone was watching for the sake of the people he represented.

Murtha’s stated opposition to the Iraq war was a mere distraction from his role as power broker and wheeler-dealer. This Earl of Earmarks brought federal funds and jobs to his beloved Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Murtha is said to be the first Vietnam combat veteran to serve in Congress, elected in 1974. His Marine Corps service started during the Korean War, after which he joined the reserves. He is said to have volunteered for active duty in 1966 and headed off to Vietnam. He received two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Murtha had seemed especially cantankerous of late where the military services were concerned. We preferred to call him “Blurtha” because we never knew what he might toss out next. Was he the consummate, calculating, Crazy-Like-a-Fox of the House?

We have written about John Murtha 12 times since October 2007 and could have penned volumes. We started with his out-of-the-blue criticism of the U.S. Africa Command. His harsh remarks about Marine actions at Haditha, Iraq, an incident that left 24 Iraqis and one Marine dead, fell just short of accusing U.S. forces of massacring innocent civilians.

On the lighter side was Murtha’s unabashed love of spending tax payer money. As chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Murtha dispensed many a defense dollar, and steered much of it to his economically challenged district. He was the friend of lobbyists and union bosses and established his own military-industrial complex at home in Johnstown – funded courtesy of the taxpayer. He was even ready to take on the controversial Guantanamo Bay detainees – and the jobs and money that would come along with them.

John Murtha leaves behind his wife of 55 years, a daughter, two sons and three grandchildren. He also leaves behind a district. Though the 12th District of Pennsylvania had been moving away from him in recent years, it will certainly feel the loss.

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