JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — The John P. Murtha who came home from Vietnam as a Marine hero deeply impressed Bob Krug, a Korean War-era vet.
Today, the congressman is advocating that American troops be brought home from Iraq, and Mr. Krug, 70, feels betrayed.
“I believed in him all these years, but I think he has taken a stance now that’s too extreme,” said Mr. Krug between sips of beer at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 155, where Mr. Murtha is listed on a plaque as a lifelong member.
Mr. Murtha, 73, a Johnstown native, long has been popular in his western Pennsylvania district, where he’s credited with bringing jobs and good health care to a region where generations have labored in coal mines and steel mills. He was back in Johnstown yesterday, and said he didn’t think President Bush’s recent rationale for the war would sway public opinion about his Iraq policy.
“He’s saying the same things, but he’s just making it look like he’s changing,” Mr. Murtha said. “He’s going to have to do more than just talk to change public opinion.”
Like Mr. Murtha, many men from Johnstown have fought wars, and in him they found someone who could identify with their plight as veterans. In 1974, Mr. Murtha was the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress, and he later retired as a colonel in the Marine Forces Reserve; he is up for re-election next year and is unopposed.
But when he stood up to Mr. Bush last month, some residents did not know what to think of their congressman’s new role as an anti-war advocate.
Some say they couldn’t be prouder. Others think he’s flat wrong.
Pennsylvania, with more than 100 deaths, has the third-highest death toll in Iraq of any state, and 2,400 of its Guard troops are in that country — down from 3,500.
Johnstown has sent more Guard troops to fight in Iraq than any other Pennsylvania town. In Vietnam, the region had a high percentage of its residents serve and die.
Like in wars past, everyone knows someone who has served in Iraq. Some, like Nicole Murray, 18, have come to the same conclusion as Mr. Murtha about the war.
“I thought it was a good thing in the beginning,” Miss Murray said. “Now, I think they should bring everybody home.”
Dennis Cruse, a 58-year-old Vietnam veteran who worked in coal mines and steel mills, expressed a similar sentiment.
“We got to get them out of there,” Mr. Cruse said. “Let them fight their own war over there.”
Even many constituents with mixed emotions over the congressman’s stance said they still have the highest respect for him. Republican Walter Kleinmeyer, 64, was in Mr. Murtha’s company in the Marine Forces Reserve.
Mr. Kleinmeyer, a certified financial planner, said that when Mr. Murtha gave an order, he was the first to do it. “He’s a leader by example, not by directive,” Mr. Kleinmeyer said.