As the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress, Jack Murtha represented the House alongside President Reagan in commemorating the Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War. Photo from Murtha's office.
by Mark Silva
Radio’s Rush Limbaugh, catching flak for his allusion to “phony soldiers’’ this week, insists he really was speaking of only one “genuine phony soldier’’ at the time.
Yet today, Limbaugh expanded his roster of “genuine phony soldiers’’ to include Rep. Jack Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, a retired Marine colonel, decorated and wounded veteran of the Vietnam War who served for 37 years and was awarded the Bronze Star.
Murtha was the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress, and as a congressman, also was among the first Democrats with major military credentials to speak out against the war in Iraq -- something he has in common with other veterans protesting not only the war, but also Limbaugh's characterization of war opponents.
Limbaugh today maintained that he was not speaking on his show Wednesday about soldiers who oppose the war in general, but rather one “phony soldier.’’ That would be Jesse MacBeth, who stoked opposition to the war last year speaking out about atrocities he committed as an Army Ranger. MacBeth, 23, of Tacoma, Wash., claimed to have killed more than 200 people, many at close range, some at prayer in mosques.
The only problem with MacBeth’s story was MacBeth himself: He had finished only six weeks of Army basic training, was never a Ranger and never deployed in Iraq. After conservative bloggers exposed him last year, he faced further trouble: Pleading guilty in June in federal court in Seattle to one count of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The only problem with Limbaugh’s story today is what he said on his show earlier in the week – an excerpt follows below. It appears – to those looking at the words on paper – that he was speaking about soldiers who oppose the war. Yet today, denouncing the “phony soldiers’’ story as a phony story and a "smear,'' Limbaugh insisted he was talking about just one phony.
Democrats, from chairman Howard Dean on down, pounced on Limbaugh for his "phony soldiers'' comment.
“ I never said what you think I said, Congressman Pallone, congresswoman Schakowsky, Senator Kerry, or any of the rest of you in the Drive-By Media,’’ Limbaugh said today on his radio program. “I was talking about a genuine phony soldier.
“And, by the way, Jesse MacBeth is not the only one,’’ Limbaugh continued today. “How about this guy Scott Thomas who was writing fraudulent, phony things in the New Republic about atrocities he saw that never happened? How about Jack Murtha blanketly accepting the notion that Marines in Haditha engaged in wanton murder of innocent children and civilians?
“If anybody owes anybody an apology,’’ Limbaugh said, “the entire Democrat Party, from Hillary Clinton on down, owes the US military an apology.’’
This was part of the exchange from Limbaugh’s show on Wednesday – the one in which he insists today he was speaking of one “genuine phony soldier,’’ not ‘’phony soldiers’’ in general – though he certainly was speaking in plural then:
CALLER: “And, you know, I'm one of the few that joined the Army to serve my country, I'm proud to say, not for the money or anything like that. What I would like to retort to is that, if we pull -- what these people don't understand is if we pull out of Iraq right now, which is about impossible because of all the stuff that's over there, it'd take us at least a year to pull everything back out of Iraq, then Iraq itself would collapse, and we'd have to go right back over there within a year or so. And'..'''
LIMBAUGH: “There's a lot more than that that they don't understand. They can't even -- if -- the next guy that calls here, I'm gonna ask him: Why should we pull -- what is the imperative for pulling out? What's in it for the United States to pull out? They can't -- I don't think they have an answer for that other than, "Well, we just gotta bring the troops home."
CALLER: “”Yeah, and, you know what…’’
LIMBAUGH: “"Save the -- keep the troops safe" or whatever. I -- it's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people.’’
CALLER: “no, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media.’’
LIMBAUGH: “The phony soldiers.’’
CALLER: “The phony soldiers. If you talk to a real soldier, they are proud to serve. They want to be over in Iraq. They understand their sacrifice, and they're willing to sacrifice for their country.’’
LIMBAUGH: “They joined to be in Iraq.’’
Sort of like Murtha, who joined the Marines in 1952 and served for nearly four decades.
As Murtha tells it on his congressional Web-site: He “learned about military service from the bottom up, beginning as a raw recruit when he left Washington and Jefferson College in 1952 to join the Marines out of a growing sense of obligation to his country during the Korean War. There he earned the American Spirit Honor Medal, awarded to fewer than one in 10,000 recruits.
“He rose through the ranks to become a drill instructor at Parris Island and was selected for Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. He then was assigned to the Second Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
“In 1959, Captain Murtha took command of the 34th Special Infantry Company, Marine Corps Reserves, in Johnstown. He remained in the Reserves after his discharge from active duty until he volunteered for Vietnam in 1966-67, where he served as the S-2 intelligence officer for the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division and received the Bronze Star with Combat "V", two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.