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Donna Miles, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
WASHINGTON - 02.09.2010 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he will remember U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania as a patriot and long-time champion of the nation's men and women in uniform.
The 77-year-old Vietnam War veteran died yesterday of complications following gall bladder surgery.
Gates issued a statement after learning of Murtha's death while traveling in Europe. "America has lost a true patriot who served his country faithfully," he said, "first in uniform as a decorated combat Marine, and then as an elected representative."
Murtha was the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress, and he rose to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense. Gates noted that he had worked with Murtha for more than two decades, since the Reagan administration, when Gates worked at the CIA.
"I will always remember and be grateful for Congressman Murtha's personal efforts on behalf of the Afghan resistance fighting the Soviets - efforts that helped bring about the end of the Cold War," he said.
But the two did not always see eye to eye, Gates acknowledged. Murtha initially advocated the war in Iraq, but reversed his position in 2005, before the troop surge helped to turn the situation there around.
"In our dealings over the years, Jack and I did not always agree, but I always respected his candor and knew that he cared deeply about the men and women of America's military and intelligence community," Gates said in his statement. "My condolences to Joyce and the rest of the Murtha family."
According to his congressional biography, Murtha joined the Marine Corps in 1952, and served as a drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C., before attending Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Va. He later served with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
He left active duty in 1955, but continued his service in the Marine Corps Reserve, volunteering for service in Vietnam in 1966 to serve as a battalion staff officer for the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. During his Vietnam service, he earned the Bronze Star with valor device, two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
Murtha attained the rank of colonel before retiring in 1990, when he was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.