The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 8, 2010

Murtha: Fall of communism was a career highlight

In his final formal interview, with The Tribune-Democrat on Jan. 27, U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha said the fall of communism was the highlight of his long political career.

Murtha, D-Johnstown, died Monday at a Virginia hospital. He was 77.

He was seated in his chairman’s spot in the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee conference room for that interview, recalling 36 years in Congress. On Sunday, Murtha became the longest-serving Congressman in Pennsylvania history.

“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.’ ”

Murtha 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.”

Murtha takes credit for attracting swing votes to assure support for the United Nations Resolution on the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but he sees the current Iraq war as a “big disappointment.”

Murtha approved the 2003 invasion, then made headlines two years later when he spoke out against the Iraq war.

“I gave them the benefit of the doubt,” Murtha said. “That was a bad mistake.”

There have been successes on the homefront, Murtha said, pointing to environmental improvements, diabetes treatment and education, water and sewer projects and other economic-development work, including projects around John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.

“We have worked continuously trying to put together a diversified economy that can withstand the type of recessions we have now,” he said.

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