In one of his last moves before leaving office March 13, then-Navy Secretary Donald Winter quietly awarded 19-term Democratic congressman John Murtha (Pa.) with the service’s highest civilian honor.
By Christian Lowe
Citing Murtha’s “courageous leadership, vision, and loyalty to the men and women of the Department of the Navy,” Winter presented the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel with the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award, an honor bestowed in “those extraordinary cases where individuals have demonstrated exceptionally outstanding service of substantial and long term benefit to the Navy, Marine Corps, or the Department of the Navy as a whole,” a Murtha release stated.
The award generated little publicity when it was given to Murtha in early March, but as news of the honor trickled out, some veterans groups ignited a firestorm of protest.
The primary reason for their ire stems from the congressman’s statements in May, 2006, that a squad of Marines who responded to an IED ambush and short firefight in Haditha, Iraq, rampaged through the village, murdering civilians “in cold blood.”
Murtha made those comments in the heat of the 2006 congressional mid-term election campaign, in a move some political analysts saw as an attempt to stoke the anti-war vote for a Democratic takeover of the House. The former Marine and distinguished Vietnam veteran continued his accusations in follow-up media appearances before an official Pentagon and Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation had been completed.
When the dust settled more than two years later, six of the eight Marines and Sailors accused of crimes in the Haditha incident had their cases dismissed, one was found not guilty and the last has been continued indefinitely.
The Navy did not respond to a request for comment on the award or the backlash from veterans groups by post time.
Murtha has refused to recant his accusations or or apologize to the Marines he accused of war crimes….