Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi and senior Members of Congress hosted a memorial service in the Capitol this morning honoring the life of Congressman John P. Murtha, Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, who passed away last month. Below are the Speaker's remarks:
“Mr. Vice President, members of the President's cabinet, Members of the United States Senate visiting to our side, especially the two Senators from Pennsylvania, Senator Specter and Senator Casey, we are honored by your presence. To all the many friends and colleagues of Jack Murtha, but especially to his family, to Joyce and the family, thank you. Thank you Joyce, for sharing Jack Murtha with us. Mr. Young said he knew Jack very well and they worked together for a long time but they never socialized together. Jack never socialized. He went home to Joyce every night.
“Many of us who are gathered here had the privilege of calling Jack Murtha colleague. Many also had the privilege of calling him friend. And so we gather today to mourn a loss of a friend, a dear friend, and to celebrate the life of a person who is a great legislator, a courageous soldier, and a public servant to the end.
“A couple of weeks ago, a couple of planes full of Members of Congress, family, and staff, when to Johnstown to pay our respects to Jack Murtha. We went there to console, and we were consoled. We saw the tremendous outpouring of love and respect for Jack Murtha. Thousands of people stood in the snow in line to wait their turn to say goodbye. Again, members of the President's cabinet came to the service, and a President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, was there. I hope it was a comfort to the family that so many people at every level of our society appreciated Jack's contribution, mourn your loss, and are praying for you at this sad time.
“I had the privilege of speaking at Jack's service, and I told the people of Johnstown about the ‘Pennsylvania Corner.' Important to note, that there are no other named locations in the House chamber. ‘Pennsylvania Corner' was a place where Jack held court. He was flanked by his two lieutenants, on the West, Mike Doyle, on the East, Bob Brady. Senior Member, Mr. Kanjorski and then all of his pals around him. Members came from across the country and across the aisle to pay their respects to get Jack's blessing on what they were up to. He always gave them friendship. He always gave them advice. Sometimes he gave them support.
“For two weeks since he left us, this flag that Bob Brady gave to Joyce and the family has been sitting there in memory of Jack, his leadership, especially of his patriotism.
“Seeing the outpouring of support in Pennsylvania and seeing it here today recalls to mind a passage from the book of Ecclesiasticus that I mentioned in Johnstown: ‘Now let us praise great men, the heroes of our nation. They led the people by their counsel and their knowledge of the laws; from their fund of wisdom, they gave instruction. Their bodies are buried in peace, and their names will live forever. The people will tell of their wisdom and the congregation will continue to sing their praise.'
“Wouldn't Jack Murtha's grandmother, wouldn't she be proud of the difference that Jack Murtha made? That he would meet that standard: ‘You are on this earth to make a difference.' Others have referenced that.
“He made a difference in so many ways. But it was interesting as we all traveled with him, whether it was abroad to the theaters of war or to Bethesda Naval Medical Center or Walter Reed, as Mr. Young has referenced. He was so interested in these soldiers. He could identify with them and speak to them as one who had served in the military. But also his affection for them was as a father.
“My favorite time was one -- when they knew he was coming they'd be all excited and this and that -- and one day the door was closed and they said: ‘The patient is not ready yet.' And then we waited a moment and the door opened, they opened the door and there was the patient standing in full salute of Jack Murtha wearing a Steelers jersey. [Laughter.] Jack loved that. Jack loved that.
“Jack was a man of great courage, recognized so by receiving the prestigious John F. Kennedy ‘Profiles in Courage' award. He won that for the courage it took for him, a person committed to our national security, a person who loved every one of our men and women in uniform. The courage it took for him to speak out against the war in Iraq. And in doing so, he taught us very clearly to make the distinction between the war and the warrior.
“Jack believed that our national strength certainly was measured in our military might and the morale and well-being of our troops, but also that it was measured in the well-being of the American people. And so while others have acknowledged his many -- how well-decorated he was as a war hero and serviceman, he was also well-recognized and decorated -- he received many awards for measuring the strength of our country, again, and the well-being of our country and our people, by his leadership on investments in breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, you name it. Jack recognized the role that research played in making America healthier and stronger.
“Jack's motto -- I mean, the motto of the Marines, which he was very proud, right Brian? We visited Brian in Iraq and how proud he was seeing you there -- of all of the troops and all of his family -- they came together. ‘Semper Fi' -- always faithful -- ‘Semper Fidelis.' That was not only the motto of the Marines whom he was so proud to be a part of, it was the motto of his life. Always faithful, always faithful to his family, his love of Joyce was so palpable, it was so wonderful, and it was such a joy to behold. That's why he was going home every night and not socializing with Bill Young, or the rest of us for that matter.
“I feel quite certain that the caliber of person that he was, specialness of his personality, the obedience to his grandmother to make a difference, his patriotism to his country, the love of his family, his mastery of the legislative process, made Jack Murtha very special. I am quite certain that we will never see his like again.
“But I also mentioned, though, when I was in Pennsylvania, something about Jack that those of us who knew him here, knew was very important to him. He loved this institution. And he loved it as others have acknowledged. I think that love was kindled by his friendship by Tip O'Neill. He loved Tip O'Neill. He loved telling us stories about Tip O'Neill. Tip was his mentor. Tip was his friend. Tip loved this intuition and together, they made progress for our country. They made friends with each other. And that is a special part of who Jack Murtha was.
“I too have a flag. This flag was flown over the Capitol, Joyce, the minute that we heard that Jack had left us. On behalf of the Congress of the United States, I want to present it to you in recognition of Jack's leadership and patriotism. Every day that he was here, he honored the pledge we took in the morning: ‘With liberty and justice for all.' How appropriate that ‘God Bless America' is the song that was sung today. God truly blessed America with the leadership and the life of Jack Murtha.”