No sooner had Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced plans to name the latest San Antonio Class LPD battleship in honor of the late Rep. John P. Murtha (D. Pa.) than the firefight began. The most vocal opposition to naming a transport ship in honor of the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress came from some of Murtha’s own fellow U.S. Marines.
“Outrage” is a mild word to describe the reaction to the possible naming by least two well-known, distinguished Marine Corps veterans who, like Murtha, served in Vietnam.
“You are kidding!” retired Marine Col. Jack Brennan fired back to me by e-mail after I sent him news of the naming of the ship for Murtha, “I am aghast, shocked, and chagrined by this disgrace.”
Brennan, onetime U.S. Marine Corps aide to President Richard Nixon who was portrayed by Kevin Bacon in the film Nixon-Frost, charged that the honoring of the late congressman “is clearly a payoff for Pelosi.” Murtha and the House speaker worked closely together in the House and, in his final years, the Pennsylvanian was frequently in the news for joining Pelosi in criticizing the U.S. action in Iraq.
“Naming a U.S. Navy ship for recently deceased Rep. John Murtha is a disgusting act because Murtha himself was a disgrace,” Orson Swindle, Vietnam POW and decorated Marine Corps veteran, told me last week week after Mabus made his announcement.
Agreeing that Murtha, as a powerful House Appropriations subcommittee chairman, did funnel major federal dollars to the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy, Swindle pointed out that the Pennsylvanian also “funneled millions in pork-barrel projects to serve his political interest and his friends. Our military service chiefs are constantly challenged to acquire sufficient funding to keep our national security arsenal capable of meeting all challenges as they compete with the insatiable demands of entitlement programs and pork-barrel projects of politicians.
A former assistant secretary of Commerce and member of the Federal Trade Commission, Swindle also cited Murtha’s opposition to the U.S. effort in Iraq and the Pennsylvanian’s involvement in the 1980 ABSCAM probe of corruption in Congress. (Unlike other lawmakers caught on film accepting bribes from FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks, Murtha declines money, but says matter-of-factly of two colleagues who were also targets: “Those guys expect to be taken care of.”).
“Murtha the politician was unethical, corrupt and arrogant with our money,” said Swindle, “He used it as if it were his own. He has no obvious sense of shame. It is a disgrace to name a U.S. Navy ship for him.”
Mabus’s announcement comes weeks before voters in Murtha’s former 18th District (Western Pennsylvania) select his successor. Recent polls have shown Republican Tim Burns maintaining a slight lead over Democrat Mark Critz, longtime top aide to Murtha.