The announcement of a ship named for the late Rep. John P. Murtha has received a backlash from many sailors and Marines. (File / Agence France-Presse)
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the Navy's decision to name an amphibious warship after Rep. John Murtha, but the formal announcement last Friday added fuel to an already smoldering backlash online.
Murtha — "our dear Jack," as Pelosi referred to him — deserved the honor as a tireless advocate for troops generally and Marines in particular, she said, and she recalled admiring his rapport with them.
"Whether on the battlefield, or on the bedside, he thanked them for their courage, listened to their concerns, and asked them for comment — and he answered their needs, and responded to their calls, whether it was for body armor, up-armored vehicles… radios, you name it," Pelosi said. "In those minutes [together], he bonded with them especially because he would share his own personal military service with them, and cared for them as a father. They knew it, and they returned his respect."
Murtha, who died in February at age 77, had served 19 terms as a congressman from Pennsylvania.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who technically is the only person in the government with the power to name U.S. warships, also praised Murtha's history of service. He unveiled an official illustration showing an amphibious transport dock marked with the hull number "26" named John P. Murtha. It will be the first in the San Antonio class not named for an American city.
Despite the encomia from Pelosi and Mabus, thousands of Web users remembered a different Murtha — the one who opposed the Iraq war and accused Marines in 2005 of killing Iraqis "in cold blood" — when reacting to the announcement about the ship named in his honor. A Facebook group called "People Against Naming A Navy Ship USS Murtha" had 1,336 members as of Monday morning, and it was becoming a clearinghouse for angry comments and homemade cartoons criticizing Murtha.
Posters on the Facebook page said Murtha, who served in the Marine Corps during the Korean and Vietnam eras, "betrayed the brotherhood," that naming a ship for him was a "slap in the face" and that if the Navy wanted to name a ship for him, it should have chosen "a nice, stinky garbage scow."
The Navy was getting angry responses even on its own official website, where visitors used the same page where the announcement appeared to criticize it. Visitors called the decision to name a ship for Murtha "an absolute disgrace," "inappropriate" and said it was just as bad as naming a warship for Benedict Arnold.
"The naming of LPD 26 after John Murtha is inappropriate," wrote David Martin. "There many men and women with greater records of valor and service to the country who deserve the honor of having a warship named in their memory before John Murtha has a warship [named] in his honor. He made sure there was an airport named after himself. What more does there need to be?"
• Navy to name LPD 26 for Rep. John Murtha (April 15)
• Navy Department award to Murtha spurs outrage (March 27, 2009)
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