The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 31, 2010

Witness to history: Murtha reflects on tenure

WASHINGTON — Seated in his chairman’s spot in the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee conference room, Rep. John Murtha recalled another highlight in the foreign policy arena during his 36 years in Congress.

“I sat right here in this room,” Murtha said from behind the ornate conference table.

“Joe McDade (of Scranton) was the ranking member of the committee at the time,” he continued.

“The television was on behind us. He said, ‘Look at this, what’s happening here?’ We turned around and the (Berlin) wall was coming down.’ ”

The fall of communism eclipses all other events for the 77-year-old Westmont Democrat, who dropped out of prestigious Washington and Jefferson College in 1952 to enlist in the Marine Corps as a private to go to Korea.

“I said, ‘It’s not right for me to be here,’ ” Murtha recalled.

“There is a war going on. We are fighting the communists.”

Later he volunteered to serve in Vietnam as an officer, where he received two purple hearts for minor injuries related to enemy fire.

His military service provided a background to seek elected office, and achieve his childhood ambition.

“I always wanted to be in politics,” Murtha said. “I remember when I was a kid I wanted to be in the Marine Corps and I wanted to be in Congress.”

On Feb. 20, Murtha begins his 37th year in the House of Representatives, becoming the longest-serving congressman in Pennsylvania history.

Wars and money

A student of history, Murtha said he was influenced by World War I veterans he knew growing up in western Pennsylvania and by his father and uncles who served in World War II. His brothers also joined the Marines, carrying on a family tradition of military service that dates back to his mother’s ancestors, Robert Bell in the Revolutionary War and Abraham Tidball Bell, a Union soldier in the Civil War.

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