Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa), better known as Jack, died on Monday from complications related to gall bladder surgery. He was 77 years old. He and his wife Joyce were married for nearly 55 years.
Murtha was the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress, being first elected in 1974. Last week he became the longest serving representative from Pennsylvania.
Murtha was an outspoken advocate on military and veterans issues, and was the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Some called him the “king of pork” for his ability to funnel billions of dollars in defense spending to his Congressional district in Pennsylvania.
Although he was an early supporter of the war, Murtha changed his position in 2005 after the Bush administration had failed to locate the alleged weapons of mass destruction which had served as the justification for the war. He sponsored a resolution for Bush to set a timeline for the withdrawal of troops, and gave other democrats the courage to step forward in opposition to the war. Murtha also criticized President Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan.
While most attention went to Murtha’s ability to allocate military spending, he was also an aggressive advocate for veterans health issues. The President of the Lung Cancer Alliance, Laurie Fenton Ambrose, issued a statement calling Murtha’s death “a great loss for our country, our military men and women and for the lung cancer community.” Murtha was responsible for establishing and funding the first lung cancer research program in the Department of Defense.
In 2003, Murtha published From Vietnam to 9/11: On the Front Lines of National Security“>From Vietnam to 9/11: On the Front Lines of National Security. In 2006, he was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award.
Murtha was an outspoken leader in Congress, a rare breed who was not afraid of taking a stand for his beliefs. While he was subjected to various allegations of ethics violations related to his handling of federal earmarked funds, he was recently cleared of the allegations. His death is a tremendous loss to his district in Pennsylvania, the United States House of Representatives, and to the American people.
In memory of Jack Murtha, some great clips of him are included below.
Murtha receives John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award:
Murtha on CNN speaking out against Iraq war:
John Murtha on Face the Nation: