John P. Murtha, Man in the Arena

04/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Jack Murtha is a personal hero of mine. An indefatigable supporter of the military and the military family, this conservative Democrat was the presidential "go-to man" on defense issues from as early as President Reagan right through President George W. Bush until Mr. Murtha's extraordinarily courageous act calling for change in Iraq. Congressman Chris Carney, who knew Congressman Murtha well, said it perfectly for the military and veteran family:

"... As a steadfast guardian of our Armed Forces, the troops came first for Jack, as he was always willing to stand up and fight for them, no matter the political cost or prevailing opinion. Because of his tenacious advocacy for better armor and equipment, generations of our fighting men and women owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. Jack Murtha cast a long shadow and so many of us were privileged to seek its shade. As a fellow veteran, I am honored to have called Mr. Murtha my colleague, my mentor, and my friend. I will miss his sage counsel and advice, but mostly I will miss his humor, warmth and that big Irish smile. The Pennsylvania corner of the House chamber will never be the same."

It is difficult to believe that I met Jack Murtha and his superb staff less than five years ago following his heroic stand on the Iraq War. From the Profiles in Courage Award:

"... As a combat veteran and a retired Marine Corps colonel with 37 years service in the U.S. military, Murtha's decision to withdraw his support for the Iraq war carried particular weight. His decision to speak out against a protracted conflict shifted public sentiment about the war and generated a substantive national debate on the progress, policies and objectives of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Murtha continues to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He will seek re-election to the U.S. Congress in November 2006.

For his political courage and his dedication to principled public service, John P. Murtha was honored with the 2006 Profile in Courage Award."


Oh, the war supporters on the right came after him. Rove and the rest of the right wing hate machine attacked him and hours upon hours of airtime, billions of pixels and thousands of pro war fanatics also attacked Jack Murtha's military service, personal integrity and very patriotism while seldom addressing his arguments.

I volunteered to aid the Congressman. The people of his district amazed me. They stood by Jack Murtha; Max Cleland coined the slogan: "We got your back, Jack" and the constituents demonstrated they did indeed. When the swiftboaters rolled into town, they were met by Murtha supporters in multiples of any crowd the swiftboaters could muster. The Congressman was reelected twice by large margins since then, which says it all. A lot of words will be typed about Congressman Murtha but Teddy Roosevelt's words of long ago ring best to me about Jack Murtha:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

The nation is a stronger and better place because of Congressman Murtha's service and a sadder place because of his loss.