Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this evening during a Special Order hour paying tribute to the life of Congressman John Murtha, Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, who passed away earlier this month. Below are the Speaker's remarks:
“Madam Speaker, I rise to join my colleagues to sing the praises of a great man--Jack Murtha. Many of us had the honor of calling him a colleague in this chamber and some of us here had the privilege of calling him a friend. And when he was your friend, you had a true friend.
“Last week, many of us travelled to Johnstown, Pennsylvania to see Jack put to rest. It was wonderful to hear the stories of the thousands of people who showed up to pay their last respects to him in Johnstown, the people he knew so well, cared about so much, fought for in this chamber. His family was gathered and they were surrounded by their loved ones. Former President of the United States Bill Clinton was there; the Secretary of Defense was there; the Chairman of the National Security Council was there; representatives of the President's Cabinet and planeloads of his colleagues who came from Washington or drove from home.
“At that time, we laughed and we cried and we tried to understand why this had happened. Jack's wife Joyce was very strong and said to me: ‘Jack would have wanted it this way. He went out at the top of his game.' Joyce is very strong. We went there to console and we came back consoled by Jack's strong family.
“I told them in my remarks about Jack holding court in the ‘Pennsylvania Corner' in this chamber. There isn't another corner that I know of that has its own name, and its own presiding officer, but Jack held court there and Members from across the country and across the aisle came to see, to visit him, to ask his blessing on their endeavors and to just be encouraged and perhaps sometimes supported by him. The cluster around him were Pennsylvanians and others, but he was never alone. He was a magnet, a personal magnet. People were drawn to him. He had this wonderful smile and cheerful twinkling eyes.
“To see him operate in the Appropriations Committee, many of us served there, was to see a master at work. But really, to understand his character it was more important to see him with our troops, whether it was just off the battlefield or in a military hospital, Bethesda Naval Medical Center, Walter Reed, Germany, Afghanistan, Iraq, the hospitals where are troops were taken.
“From his own military experience, he would ask them questions very knowledgeably about their unit and what they had encountered and what they had seen. And they all loved seeing him. They knew he was their friend, and to visit on the occasions, when I had the privilege of visiting with Jack Murtha, was to receive a special welcome from the troops and their families.
“One time I remember in particular was when we were visiting this young man, was a second visit, and he managed somehow when he knew Jack was coming to get out of his bed. And as we went in the door, there he was standing at attention saluting Jack Murtha in a Steelers jersey. Pennsylvania, how he loved that state, how he worked for it, how we will miss him here.
“He had a special way about him, as I've said, by dint of his knowledge, his courage -- imagine the courage it took for Jack Murtha to come to our Caucus, to come to the Leader's office and tell me that day: ‘We have to begin removing our troops from Iraq.' He went alone to the press to tell them that. It was like an earthquake in terms of opinion. People who had questions about the war felt validated. People who respected Jack began to question. One thing was for sure, he was respected by the military and when he spoke, they knew it was with no agenda except the national security of our country and the safety of our men and women in uniform. Force protection -- he was always talking about that. When we would travel to the war zones, whether it was the seats in the trucks or the better radios or whatever armored cars, body armor -- you name it. Soon as he saw the need, he came back and delivered.
“So when he did speak out against the war in Iraq, it was a really quite stunning thing for our country. I think it was really historic. It wasn't just that episode. It was that event of national significance, historic significance. He received, as has been mentioned, the John F. Kennedy ‘Profile in Courage Award.' Can you imagine -- for people of our generation? Someone to receive the John F. Kennedy ‘Profile in Courage Award.' I will never forget that night at the Kennedy Library -- he and Joyce, black tie, beautiful Joyce, proud Jack standing tall like a Marine, coming down those steps, being cheered by Democrats and Republicans alike. It wasn't about any partisanship, it was about patriotism.
“He was a proud Marine as we all know. ‘Semper Fi' was their motto -- ‘Semper Fidelis' -- always faithful. And that was the motto of his life: Faithful to God, faithful to country, faithful to his family, faithful to his district.
“I can't talk about Jack -- just one more moment if I may, Madam Speaker -- without talking about the funny stories he always told us about Tip O'Neill. Tip was his mentor. As he mentored so many of us, Tip was his mentor. And he loved Tip O'Neill. And he would tell us the stories of how it was to go to a baseball game with Tip and this and that and the rest. And well I won't go into the stories now about peer review, Mr. Obey, and those kinds of appropriations matters. But Tip instilled in him, perhaps he had it innately, but still, Tip strengthened in him a pride in this institution that he took very seriously. And he, in mentoring others, passed that pride onto others as well. He loved this Congress; he loved this institution. He left us at the top of his game. We'll miss you, Jack Murtha.
“Next week, we will gather in Statuary Hall with many more friends who can join in, not as on the floor of the House, to once again pay tribute to this man. It's hard to believe he is gone, but as he said, ‘the soldiers can't speak for themselves. We sent them to war and by God, we are the ones who have to speak out.'
“His wife Joyce wants us to have the music ‘God Bless America' at the closing of his ceremony next week. And God truly blessed America with the life, leadership, and service of Jack Murtha. I hope it's a comfort to Joyce and to the children and grandchildren of whom he was so proud, that so many people mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time.”