Murtha's District Mixed Over Lawmaker's Positions
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The John Murtha who came home from Vietnam as a Marine hero deeply impressed Bob Krug, a Korean War-era vet.
Today, Rep. Murtha is advocating that American troops be brought home from Iraq and Krug, 70, feels betrayed.
"I believed in him all these years, but I think he's taken a stance now that's too extreme," Krug said between sips of beer at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 155, where Murtha is listed on a plaque as a lifelong member.
Murtha, 73, a Johnstown native, has long been popular in his western Pennsylvania district, where he's credited with bringing jobs and good health care to the region where generations have labored in coal mines and steel mills. He was back in Johnstown on Wednesday, and said he didn't believe President Bush's recent rationale for the war would sway public opinion about his Iraq policy.
"He's saying the same things, but he's just making it look like he's changing," Murtha said. "He's gonna have to do more than just talk to change public opinion."
Like Murtha, many men from Johnstown have fought wars, and in him they found someone who could identify with their plight as veterans. In 1974, Murtha was the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, and he later retired as a colonel in the Marine Forces Reserve; he is up for re-election next year and thus far is unopposed.
But when he stood up to Bush last month, some residents did not know what to think of their congressman's new role as an anti-war advocate.
Some say they couldn't be prouder. Others, like Krug and Harold Wilson, a retired teacher who lost a leg fighting in Korea, think he's flat wrong. Krug said he would even vote against him.
"You don't send a balloon up and then put a pin in it," Wilson said. "He's gotten to the age where he should think about retiring."
Pennsylvania, with more than 100 deaths, has had the third highest death toll in Iraq of any state, and 2,400 of its Guard troops are currently in Iraq — down from 3,500.
Johnstown has sent more Guard troops to fight in Iraq than any other Pennsylvania town. In Vietnam, the region had a high percentage of its residents serve and die.
Like in wars past, everyone knows someone who has served in Iraq. Some, like Nicole Murray, 18, have come to the same conclusion as Murtha about the war.
"I thought it was good thing in the beginning," Murray said. "Now, I think they should bring everybody home."
Dennis Cruse, a 58-year-old Vietnam veteran who worked in coal mines and steel mills, expressed a similar sentiment.
"We got to get them out of there," Cruse said. "Let them fight their own war over there."
Even many with mixed emotions over the congressman's stance said they still have the highest respect for Murtha. Republican Walter Kleinmeyer, 64, was in Murtha's company in the Marine Forces Reserve.
Kleinmeyer, a certified financial planner, said when Murtha gave an order, he was the first to do it. "He's a leader by example, not by directive," Kleinmeyer said.
A recent AP-Ipsos poll showed that a solid majority of Americans oppose leaving Iraq immediately.
Murtha said his office in Johnstown has heard from more than 16,000 people — some of whom used foul language, like he heard in Marine boot camp. But only about 20 percent of those who contacted his office were opposed to his action, he said, and it's hard to judge whether those contacting him are constituents.