February 16th, 2010
03:40 PM ET
13 years ago

Murtha eulogized at funeral service

(CNN) - Pennsylvania and the nation said good-bye 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 the people of 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. "Law-making should be sacred work and Jack knew that."

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

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."

A military honor guard escorted the flag-draped coffin Tuesday and the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, gave one of the eulogies.

Murtha, first elected to Congress in 1974, served for many years on the House subcommittee that oversees Pentagon spending. Conway recalled his many meetings with Murtha.

"The chairman was a gruff man, but he did like to laugh," Conway said.

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."

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

Murtha's daughter, Donna, also eulogized her father, recalling 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 in Maryland. He was released, but was 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 longest-serving congressman from Pennsylvania in the state's history.

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.

Other controversies dogged Murtha's career. Critics alleged he steered Pentagon contracts tobusinesses that hired his brother as a lobbyist, but Murtha insisted his brother was treated like everyone else.

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, as well as daughter Donna and two sons.

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

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

Filed under: John Murtha
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Murtha always supported our military men and women on all fronts. He was truly an American Hero and never road on the backs of our military for his own self serving purposes. A TRUE AMERICAN HEROES WHOSE VOICE HAS BEEN SILENCED.

    February 16, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  2. I voted for Obama and proud of it in Oregon

    to his family . mr. Murtha will be greatly missed , along side Ted kenedy as an american hero for political justice 🙂

    February 16, 2010 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  3. Tim

    He never did apologize to the Marines, did he? Too late now.

    February 16, 2010 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  4. J.Williams san diego

    Rev. William George–"law-making should be sacred work and jack knew that" does that mean all crooks go to heaven?

    February 16, 2010 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  5. Mark L.

    My Deepest Condolences Go Out to the Entire Murtha Family. John P. Murtha was more than just a Democratic Congressman, he was a WAR HERO (former Marine Colonel and twice-wounded Vietnam War veteran). R.I.P. John P. Murtha, R.I.P. – You will be VERY SORELY Missed.

    February 16, 2010 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  6. RMc

    Thank you for your service and dedication to this country, sir. May your soul rest in peace.

    February 16, 2010 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  7. Jane/Seattle

    Too bad his life was cut short even WITH Good medical benefits! I'll hate to this lawsuit and the amount asked for such malpractice!

    February 16, 2010 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  8. Bob in Pa

    Never to talk bad about someone during their funeral. But the Rev. William George is fair game.

    "Law-making should be sacred work and Jack knew that"
    The Rev apparently never visited Mr. Murtha's district.

    February 16, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  9. james

    Make sure those rednecks you love so much in your district don't try to Romney you on the way down.

    February 16, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  10. AJ

    Pelosi led a "bipartisan delegation"? She should be ashamed of herself. That any republican even showed up at the funeral is ludicrous. Republicans hated Murtha and cheered his death. They should have the decency to leave him alone in death.

    February 16, 2010 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |