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Murtha remembered as friend, public servant

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Final farewell to Rep. Murtha
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Murtha elected 17 times to represent Pennsylvania's 12th district
  • Murtha, 77, died February 8 of complications from gall bladder surgery
  • War veteran earned reputation as one of Congress's loudest anti-war voices
  • "Jack Murtha never lost sight of God's purpose in the law," reverend says

(CNN) -- Pennsylvania and the nation said goodbye Tuesday to John P. Murtha, politician, warrior, father, friend, gentleman.

Speakers at the funeral for the Democratic congressman recalled a man skilled in the ways of Washington but, more importantly, a public servant who never forgot why he was elected 17 times to represent Pennsylvania's 12th district.

"Jack Murtha never lost sight of God's purpose in the law," said the Rev. William George, president of the Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington. "Lawmaking should be sacred work, and Jack knew that."

Murtha, 77, died February 8 of complications from gall bladder surgery.

Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, died after complications from gall bladder surgery.
Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, died after complications from gall bladder surgery.
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A former Marine colonel and twice-wounded Vietnam War veteran, Murtha earned a reputation as one of Congress's loudest anti-war voices. He initially supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but he stunned much of Washington when he called for a swift U.S. pullout in November 2005.

"U.S. and coalition troops have done all they can," Murtha said. "It's time for a change in direction."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led a bipartisan delegation to the funeral, remembered her long-time ally.

"Those who served with him were honored to call him a colleague," Pelosi said. "There were those of us who were privileged to call him friend."

President Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were among those who filled Westmont Presbyterian Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for the funeral.

Murtha's daughter, Donna, recalled his love of nature and how he enjoyed feeding wild birds, but not squirrels that raided the birdseed.

"He loved to outwit the squirrels," Donna Murtha said, her voice breaking at times. "He could not stand it if they were outwitting him."

Others recalled Murtha's dedication to public service.

"Today there is great comfort in the memory of John P. Murtha's life," said the Rev. Douglas Stevens, pastor of Westmont Presbyterian. "He made a difference."

Murtha underwent scheduled laparoscopic surgery to remove his gall bladder January 28 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He was released but rehospitalized a few days later after the complications developed.

The operation had been scheduled after Murtha was hospitalized for a few days in December.

Murtha represented Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District in the House since 1974, making him the chamber's eighth most senior member. Two days before he died, Murtha became the state's longest-serving congressman.

He also was the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress, his biography on the House Web site says.

Murtha was considered one of "the kings of pork" on Capitol Hill by taxpayer watchdog groups for requesting tens of millions of dollars in earmarks.

The congressman strongly defended earmarks, saying on his Web site, "I believe that elected representatives of the people understand their constituents and districts best."

Supporters said his efforts helped bring thousands of jobs to western Pennsylvania.

Born June 17, 1932, in West Virginia, Murtha moved with his family to Pennsylvania as a child.

Prior to joining the House of Representatives, he served in the Pennsylvania state legislature. He also served 37 years in the Marines and Marine Corps Reserves. He retired from the Reserves in 1990 and received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

Murtha attended Washington and Jefferson College but dropped out in 1952 to enlist in the Marines. He later graduated from the University of Pittsburgh.

He is survived by his wife, Joyce, daughter, Donna, and two sons.

"When they made dad, they broke the mold," Donna Murtha said during the funeral. "He lived by the motto, one man can make a difference."

Murtha was scheduled to be buried later Tuesday at a private ceremony.