The late Rep. John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, has achieved his highest undeserved honor. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has decided to name the Navy's newest San Antonio Class amphibious transport-dock LPD 26 the USS John P. Murtha. This is a slap in the face to every service member who bridled when Murtha publicly accused Marines in Iraq of intentionally killing women and children in cold blood.
Murtha made his views known after details emerged about a firefight in Haditha in November 2005 in which 24 Iraqis were killed. Murtha accused the Marines of engaging in premeditated murder and agreed with MSNBC's Chris Matthews that this was "exactly" like the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Charges later were brought against eight Marines but have since been dropped against all but one. However, Murtha's theatrical rush to judgment still rankles Americans in uniform, whose views on the congressman range from disappointment to the belief that he gave aid and comfort to the enemy.
"This dishonors every Marine who will serve aboard that ship," a Navy officer told The Washington Times. "And it sends a poor message to the acquisition community that politicians can have ships named after them just for sending pork back to their districts." Milblogger "CDR Salamander," who served in the Navy for 21 years, told us this was "a naked political move" and "nothing about this man will be inspiring to the crew assigned to the ship."
To his credit, Murtha was a combat-wounded veteran of Vietnam, but he is hardly unique in that respect. The USNS Benavidez is named for Army Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, who, wounded and under heavy assault, saved the lives of eight men at Loc Ninh in South Vietnam in 1968. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. Likewise the USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin, which is named for a Marine who was mortally wounded on Iwo Jima while leading his men in a counterattack against a massed Japanese suicide charge. The USNS Shughart is named after Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart, killed at the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. These are the types of veterans who should be given such an honor, not a political hack whose most successful defensive maneuver was saving his pork-laden earmarks from surprise attacks of fiscal responsibility.
The idea to name the ship after Murtha probably did not originate with the Navy secretary. Some speculate that this is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's parting salute to one of her loyal hatchet men. San Antonio Class vessels traditionally are named after cities, and this is the first such ship to be named after a person. Because this recommendation breaks protocol and tradition, the Navy Department should release the documents that pinpoint its origins and the process by which it was decided.
It's doubtful that the ship naming will do much to honor Murtha. The brave Marines and sailors who serve aboard this vessel probably will refer to it only as LPD 26 or come up with a colorful nickname like "Porky Pig" or the "Fat Bastard" (the Marine favorite). Perhaps Murtha could still be useful in supplying the ship's slogan: "Cold Blooded Killers."