Weekend rallies planned by Murtha fans, foes
By Richard Gazarik
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The two sides in the political battle over the Iraq war will square off again this weekend in Johnstown with competing rallies for and against U.S. Rep. John Murtha, who is seeking re-election.

Vets for Murtha will gather at 11 a.m. Saturday in Central Park in Johnstown, with former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland and retired Gen. Wesley Clark as keynote speakers.

On Sunday, Veterans for the Truth will hold an anti-Murtha rally at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, featuring speaker David Beamer, the father of Todd Beamer, who led a passenger revolt on United Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Somerset County, after it was hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

Terry Pendleton, whose son, Lance Cpl. Robert Pendleton, is one of several Marines accused of the slaying of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, and Earl Johnson, whose son, Justin, was killed in Iraq, also will speak.

Murtha, a Democrat, former Marine and recipient of two Purple Hearts, surprised many people last year when he began to criticize the war effort and suggested that the United States redeploy its forces in Iraq.

He accused President Bush of wrongly linking 9/11 with Iraq and said the Army was "broken" and "worn" by the war.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Harry Beam, of Johnstown, one of the rally organizers, said some people oppose Murtha because of his remarks about the Marines charged with murder in the Haditha incident.

In November 2005, Marines allegedly killed 24 Iraqi civilians and are accused of covering up the incident by reporting they were killed in combat.

Beam accused Murtha of pronouncing the men guilty after he was briefed by Marine officials.

"This has made a number of active and veteran people angry," Beam said. "People are really ticked off."

In August, Veterans for the Truth held a rally across the street from Murtha's Johnstown office, while supporters held a counterdemonstration in front of the building.

"We're not happy with what has become a cut-and-run policy," Beam said. "Our complaints are not for political reasons. It's the way he's treating the military."

Ed Mitchell, a spokesman for Vets for Murtha, called Beam's charges "venomous" and "purely political."

"How can someone blame someone like Jack Murtha, who has spent his entire career in Congress fighting for the military and, with the military fighting on the battlefield, (and) call him a traitor or unpatriotic?" Mitchell asked.

Murtha faces Republican Diana Irey in November for re-election in the 12th District. Irey is a Washington County commissioner.