Naming a Landing Ship After Murtha Denigrates the U.S. Navy

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BY JUSTIN DANHOF – WASHINGTON, D.C. — Here’s a tip: to get ahead in today’s America, denigrate it.


Sometime between President Obama’s 2008 campaign — when he refused to wear an American flag pin — and earlier this year when he and Mexican President Felipe Calderon assailed Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law, the White House message galvanized as America is not a place that engenders pride.

If this sounds paradoxical, consider recently deceased Congressman John Murtha, (D-PA).  He maligned American Marines, yet a Navy landing craft will soon bear his name — thanks to the Obama Administration.

On April 23, Secretary of the Navy, Obama appointee Ray Mabus, announced that the newest San Antonio Class LPD ship would be named the “USS John P. Murtha.”  This is great news for American apologists and pork-barrel fans, but for American patriots — and especially the Marines — it’s a travesty.

Was the name “USS Abscam” taken?

San Antonio Class ships, per the Navy’s ship-naming system, are generally named after American cities.  Murtha, who retired as a colonel in 1990, was a 37-year veteran of the Marine Corps and Marine Forces Reserve.  He will be the first — and likely only — person to have to have an LPD named in his honor.  This exception is unnecessary.

When exceptions were made, it was for extraordinary individuals.  Submarines, for example, were named after Admiral Hyman Rickover, the “father of the nuclear navy,” and for former submariner, President Jimmy Carter.

The Navy should rename the USS Murtha.  The Marines deserve better.

In May 2006, after a firefight in Haditha left 24 Iraqis dead, Murtha accused the marines of killing “innocent civilians in cold-blood.”  Without any evidence, Murtha publicly accused our young soldiers of premeditated murder.  He and MSNBC host Chris Matthews even compared the event to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, saying the two incidents were “exactly” alike.

Of the eight marines investigated, six were exonerated, one was acquitted, and one awaits trial for lesser charges.

Did Murtha apologize after learning the facts?  No, he continued his baseless claims to the point where two Marines sued him for defamation.

At Murtha’s ship-naming ceremony, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that he “cared for [the young Marines] as a father.  They knew it and they returned his respect.”  The irony of “cold-blooded killers” serving aboard a ship named for Murtha may be lost on Pelosi, but others are furious.

After the announcement, visitors to the Navy’s official website likened the decision to naming a ship for Benedict Arnold.  Orson Swindle, a Vietnam POW and decorated Marine Corps veteran, said naming “a U.S. Navy ship for recently deceased Rep. John Murtha is a disgusting act because Murtha himself was a disgrace.”

Perhaps Secretary Mabus overlooked the Haditha comments to honor Murtha’s tenure as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.  But, contrasted with politicians like Carl Vinson and John C. Stennis who have Navy ships named for them, Murtha is known more for pork-barrel spending than revolutionizing the Navy.

Then there are the ethical problems.

Murtha was mired in so many scandals that, even after his death, the FBI chooses to withhold many of his files due to active investigations.  From the Abscam scandal, where he was caught on camera appearing to negotiate a bribe with imposter Arab sheiks, to the PMA group — one of his largest donors — currently under investigation for violating campaign finance laws, Murtha was never beyond reproach.

Upon learning about the USS Murtha, one Navy Officer said, this “dishonors every Marine who will serve aboard that ship . . . it sends a poor message . . . that politicians can have ships named after them just for sending pork back to their districts.”

Here’s hoping that the Navy corrects course and scuttles the USS Murtha.

Justin Danhof is General Counsel for The National Center for Public Policy Research (, a non-partisan think tank located on the Senate side of Capitol Hill.   Readers may write him at NCPPR, 501 Capitol Court NE, Washington DC 20002
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