Hey guage and Jayhawk wazzup with this! Murhta cheered by troops
Troops echo frustration over war in Iraq
By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jun 21, 7:58 AM ET
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. - While Staff Sgt. Randy Myers was dodging roadside bombs in Iraq, his congressman was calling the war a lost cause.
Sixteen-term Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), a decorated Vietnam veteran and military hawk, has become the face of the Democrats' anti-war movement since he called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops last fall. His oft-repeated criticism of the Bush administration's war policies also has earned him the wrath of Republicans.
In Murtha's southwest Pennsylvania district, however, many share the war critic's views.
At a welcome home ceremony this week for Myers and other troops from the Johnstown, Pa.-based 876th Engineer Battalion, the crowd cheered when a Murtha aide welcomed the troops on the congressman's behalf.
Myers said he backs Murtha, an opinion echoed by a number of other troops and their families. Several share his frustration with the conflict.
"I'm not sure we're doing a whole lot of good," Myers, 46, said of the U.S. presence in Iraq. "Everybody thinks we are. We're trying to, but we're not going to change what they want to do, and if they don't want to change, they're not gonna."
Said Sgt. 1st Class George Wozniak, 36, of Murtha: "He's definitely for a strong military and he definitely supports the troops."
Patriotism runs deep in Murtha's district in the Allegheny Mountains, where joining the military is a family tradition and often an economic necessity. Many served in Vietnam and that war exacted a heavy toll, with Allegheny County losing 421 men and Washington County, part of Murtha's district, losing 67. Memorials to those killed are scattered throughout the towns and cities of western Pennsylvania.
Not far from Johnstown was the setting for the Oscar-winning 1978 movie "The Deer Hunter," which explored the impact of Vietnam on the young men of an industrial town.
Doubts about Iraq have surfaced in the region. A Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday found that 25 percent in southwest Pennsylvania said all troops should be withdrawn from Iraq, while 38 percent in Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs said they should all be withdrawn.
The battalion was part of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the largest group of the state's Guard troops to fight in a combat zone since World War II. The approximately 2,000 troops were based in Anbar Province, one of the most dangerous sections of Iraq. Fifteen Pennsylvania troops from the brigade were killed during the deployment.
"I would like them out of there," said Bonnie Shable, 53, whose husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class James Shable, served in Vietnam and Iraq and returned home with the battalion this week. "I think we've done what we're going to do over there and it's time for everybody to come home."
Divisions over the war and a timetable for pulling out U.S. forces have roiled the Democrats. Republicans, looking to capitalize on the issue in an election year, have accused Democratic critics such as Murtha of espousing a "cut-and-run" approach, hoping the argument will resonate with voters.
His criticism has angered some in the district. Unopposed in 2004, Murtha has a GOP rival this time â€” Diana Irey, a Washington County commissioner.
Ruth Ann Biesinger-Sliko, 55, a physical education teacher who came to see a fellow teacher and six of her former students return from Iraq, said Murtha has lost her vote because of his negativity about the war.
"I think that makes the guys feel terrible when he starts, you know, bashing. I think you need to support the guys," Biesinger-Sliko said. "I think it's created a lot of bad feelings for the people whose families are over there."
Vice President Dick Cheney and White House adviser Karl Rove have assailed the congressman, with Bush's political adviser saying Democrats like Murtha "may be with you at the first shots, but they are not going to be there for the last tough battles."
Murtha, a Marine who did two tours in Vietnam, fired back. "He's making a political speech. He's sitting in his air-conditioned office with his big, fat backside, saying, 'Stay the course.' That's not a plan," Murtha said of Rove on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Murtha remains popular in his district, in large part because of the federal dollars he has delivered. The homecoming ceremony this week was at an armory on a hillside dubbed "Fort Murtha" because of that largesse. Next to the armory is the John P. Murtha Airport, which is a few miles from the John P. Murtha Neuroscience and Pain Institute.
"I just believe everything he says is very true," said Cindy Saylor, 49, whose 19-year-old son was among those who returned home. "I think we need to get out of there. People are getting killed needlessly."
Not everyone in the district is happy with Murtha's outspokenness or higher political profile. The congressman has said if Democrats capture control of the House, he will seek the job of majority leader. Murtha also plans to speak at Democratic meetings in New Hampshire and Florida in the next few weeks.
A banner proclaiming, "Welcome Home Soldiers: Got-R-Done," greeted the troops when they returned. Many of the soldiers declined to be interviewed. Or, when asked about Murtha, said they didn't know enough to have an opinion.
Tom Geiger, a 79-year-old World War II veteran, said he thinks Murtha is "50 percent right and 50 percent wrong."
"Maybe they should have searched a little bit more" for weapons of mass destruction, Geiger said. "But once you're into it, you're stuck with it."