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Published: August 03, 2006 07:48 am    print this story   comment on this story  

Under fire: Murtha defends comments about war, troops

BY COLLEEN FREYVOGEL
The Tribune-Democrat

Gov. Ed Rendell might have been the marquee name on a swing through Cambria County on Wednesday, but fellow campaigner John Murtha was center stage.

In the midst of a re-election battle with Washington County Republican Diana Irey, Murtha this week has come under heavy fire for his positions on the war in Iraq.

Wednesday, he fought back – enlisting the assistance of Rendell and former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a disabled Army veteran of the Vietnam War.

And, nine months after Murtha first spoke out against the war, veterans groups are turning up the rhetoric in both defending and disputing his comments.

In response to harsh criticism from a veterans group earlier this week, other former soldiers are rallying to support the lawmaker.

“This man knows more about military, war and the national security of our nation than anybody on Capitol Hill,” Cleland said.

Cleland said the “Veterans for the Truth” organization should stop its efforts against Murtha. He made comparisons to the "swift boat"

situation involving presidential candidate John Kerry in 1994.

“It’s a new band, with a new band leader, but it’s the same old crowd,” he said.

“Don’t let them ‘swift boat’ Jack Murtha.”

This week’s quick-moving events include:

• On Monday, the “Veterans for the Truth” organization announced they will hold a national rally in Johnstown in October.

• Veterans favoring Murtha gathered Wednesday at the Mirage Banquet Room, where Rendell and Murtha stopped.

• Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Murtha.

• Today, opposing veterans groups are scheduled to rally outside of Murtha’s Johnstown office, 647 Main St.

Rendell said the anti-Murtha faction will meet opposition at today’s press conference.

“Boy, are they in for a surprise,” he said. “If they attack Jack Murtha, they are going to be attacked back.”

Dozens of veterans groups from the region are planning to attend.

Terry Menear, from the Somerset Vietnam Veterans Association, will be there.

“I think they ought to stay where they belong,” he said. “I am all for John Murtha.”

Murtha said critics are trying to take attention away from his mission to redeploy troops away from Iraq.

“I try not to be distracted from my mission, which is to change the direction of our country,” he said.

“It’s great to see so many people support me in my district.”

Dot Helsel, a resident of Stonycreek Township, supports Murtha and believes most residents in Johnstown still do.

“I think he’s done an outstanding job for the Johnstown region,” she said. “You don’t always agree with somebody, but I would say most people in this area like him.”

Helsel said she does not think protesters or negative attention will affect Murtha’s campaign.

“He’s been there too long now,” she said. “You can disagree with somebody but you don’t have to be disagreeable.”

Mary Miller of Johnstown, national president for the Association of Vietnam Veterans of America, said Murtha protesters have taken his words out of context.

“A lot of these people who are outing him have never served in the military and they don’t understand what it’s like,” said Miller, whose group is a service organization for the Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s just upsetting, really. He’s always been for the veterans and the families. He’s done a lot.”

Rendell, Murtha and Cleland stopped in Carrolltown after their Johnstown-area stops.

Today, Murtha is scheduled to be in Clarks Summit, outside Scranton, campaigning for Democrat Chris Carney, who’s running against incumbent Republican Don Sherwood in the 10th district.

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Photos


John Wells, a World War II Marine fighter pilot, talks Wednesday with U. S. Rep. John Murtha at a veterans rally in Richland Township. None/John Rucosky;The Tribune-Democrat (Click for larger image)

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