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Did Jack Murtha Lie for His Purple Hearts? By: Patrick Poole
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, November 27, 2006

One area deemed off-limits by the Left is criticism of its “war heroes.” Take, for instance, John Murtha’s failed bid to become the next House Majority Leader last week. Murtha, who has become the primary Democratic Party critic of the war in Iraq, came under fire by Republicans and Democrats alike during his Majority Leader bid for his role in the ABSCAM scandal in the early 1980s and his constant pork-barreling with no protest issued. Undoubtedly, these led to his defeat for the position.

But there are real questions surrounding Murtha’s Vietnam-era military service, particularly the circumstances surrounding the issuance of his two Purple Hearts. And like John Kerry, Murtha has thus far refused to release all his military records.


In January, Marc Morano and Randy Hall of CNSNews.com noted multiple explanations offered by Murtha on his combat injuries that varied widely. It also reported accusations by a former congressional staffer that Murtha had pressured his boss for his Purple Heart awards and the testimony of a former Democratic Congressman and colleague of Murtha’s, who claimed that Murtha admitted that he didn’t deserve the Purple Hearts he was awarded.


What facts did the authors present?


  • The article cites Harry M. Fox, a former congressional aide to Rep. John Saylor. In 1996, Fox spoke to the Uniontown (PA) Herald-Standard, saying that Murtha wrote to his boss in 1968 pressing for two Purple Hearts – medals that Saylor’s staff determined that Murtha’s wounds did not merit. When Saylor died in office, Fox lost a special election in 1974 to replace his former boss to Murtha. (Upon his return from Vietnam, Murtha had unsuccessfully challenged Saylor in the 1968 election.)
  • A former Democratic congressional colleague, Don Bailey, said in an open letter to Murtha in 2002 (more than three years before Murtha came out against the war in Iraq) that Murtha admitted to him in a conversation in the early 1980s that he did not do anything sufficient to earn his Purple Hearts. Following redistricting in 1982, Bailey and Murtha were forced to run for the same congressional seat, which Murtha won.
  • Morano/Hall also noted contradictory accounts of Murtha’s alleged combat injuries and his inability to remember where they are:

Murtha's accounts of his Vietnam War wounds may also conflict with the available U.S. Marine medical records obtained by the media.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
on May 12, 2002, reported that “Marine Corps casualty records show that Murtha was injured in 'hostile' actions near Danang, Vietnam, on March 22, 1967, and May 7, 1967.

“In the first incident, his right cheek was lacerated, and in the second, he was lacerated above his left eye. Neither injury required evacuation,” the Post-Gazette reported.

But an Oct. 26, 1994, article in the Herald-Standard quoted Murtha as describing two different injuries.

“I was wounded in the arm with shrapnel from a bullet that hit the motor mount of a helicopter. In the other, my knee was banged up and my arm was banged up when a helicopter was shot down from a very few feet,” Murtha told the Herald-Standard.


In response, the Left unleashed the hounds on the reporters and publications that dared to report on the controversy. Almost immediately after the Morano/Hall piece was published, inflamed complaints arose that John Murtha was being “swiftboated” by “arch-conservatives.” Murtha issued his own defense on the leftist website, The Huffington Post, joined by outraged editorial in the New York Times by decorated Vietnam veteran and now Democratic Senator-elect from Virginia, James Webb; a heated column by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne; and additional coverage by Washington Post reporters Howard Kurtz and Shailagh Murray. Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi huffed that “the Swift Boat-like attacks on an American hero, Congressman Jack Murtha, are despicable and have no place in politics.”


But leftists did not exhibit those scruples when their mainstream media associates attacked the military service of President George H.W. Bush, 1996 Republican presidential candidate Senator Bob Dole, Arizona Senator John McCain, and President George W. Bush. As Jim Geraghty of the National Review has noted, during the 1988 presidential campaign, the New York Post ran a front-page article on their August 12th issue – the first day of the 1988 GOP convention – airing accusations that the senior Bush may have jumped from his plane too quickly when it was shot down over the Pacific in World War II, possibly costing his plane’s two crewman their lives. In 1992, it was none other than Bill Clinton’s good friend and ally, Sidney Blumenthal, who revived these accusations in the October 12th edition of the New Republic that year.


During the 1996 campaign, Robert Ellis attacked Bob Dole’s military record in the pages of The Nation, blaming Dole for inflicting his own wounds for his first Purple Heart, and dismissing the heroism under fire that caused his permanent injuries. The Left also sat quiet as syndicated columnist Gary Trudeau mocked Dole’s war wounds on ABC’s Prime Time Live.


John McCain – the current frontrunner for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination – is still the target of attacks from the Left. Just this month leftist “intelligence expert” and former National Security Agency analyst Wayne Madsen posted an article on his website (last entry on the page) claiming that McCain was personally responsible for devastating fire on the USS Forrestal in July 1967 that killed 134 personnel on board the ship. However, a video of the event shows that the Zuni missile that misfired came from an F-4 Phantom on the other side of the deck from McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk , causing the initial explosion that forced McCain to jump from his plane to escape. But leftists never let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.


And in the 2004 presidential election, the Left and its mainstream media allies had to manufacture evidence to attack President George W. Bush’s military service in the notorious Rathergate scandal. Notwithstanding the disgrace for CBS and Dan Rather for so willingly falling for clearly manufactured documents, comments about Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard are still as common amongst the Left as Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers in the White House Press Corps parking lot.


But when 247 of John Kerry’s former military colleagues came out to challenge Kerry’s version of events during his brief stint in Vietnam, the Left went apoplectic at the audacity of military veterans questioning the heroism of their three-time Purple Heart winner (who never had to spend a night in the hospital from his injuries) and presidential candidate.


Democrats modestly claim that their war heroes never politicize their military service. But is this true? Does anyone remember John Kerry’s opening line from his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech? “I am John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty.”


And when Murtha come out against the Iraq war in November 2005, why did the media focus on the opinions of this obscure, previously disgraced Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania? If it was solely his opposition to the war, why did Murtha receive more attention than perennial antiwar drumbeater, Dennis Kucinich? It was Murtha’s military service, of course, and his status as a combat decorated “hero” of the Vietnam War was mentioned in virtually every mainstream media account at the time.


If Murtha’s version of his service in Vietnam is accurate, there is a simple remedy to put the matter to bed for good: fill out Form 180 and publicly release all his military records. This is precisely what his former Democratic colleague, Don Bailey, asked that he do in 2002. Thus far, Murtha’s iron grip on his military records is as strong as John Kerry’s, and both have refused to release all of their records.


As long as the Left’s “war heroes” continue to politicize their military service while steadfastly refusing to release their military records, questions about their service will remain.


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Patrick Poole is a regular contributor to Frontpagemag.com and an anti-terrorism consultant to law enforcement and the military.

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