PRAISE AND HONOR FOR A NON-PARTICIPANT
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 03 April 2009
Shortly after promotion to First Lieutenant some twenty-seven years ago, a seasoned, surly, and just a little bit cynical senior officer pulled me aside and introduced me to the “Six Phases of a Project.” I remember his short “counseling session” as if it were yesterday. During the course of my next 23 years in uniform there proved to be much wisdom and truth in his frank lesson. The phases need no explanation: 1) Enthusiasm; 2) Disillusionment; 3) Panic; 4) Search for the Guilty; 5) Punish the Innocent; 6) Praise and Honor for the Non-participants. “Search for the Guilty,” “Punish the Innocent,” and “Praise and Honor for the Non-participants” pertain to today’s commentary.
The “Six Phases of a Project” came flooding back to me when news hit the street a couple weeks ago that Congressman John Murtha (D, PA)—a 19-term office-holder—was presented the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award by then-Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter. Murtha’s award—the Navy’s highest civilian honor—cited “Congressman Murtha’s selfless devotion to the Nation’s Sailors and Marines ensured they were provided the resources necessary to effectively conduct the Global War on Terrorism. His courageous leadership, vision, and loyalty to the men and women of the Department of the Navy…” Those who have ever worn a uniform—especially the one adorned with the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor—and veterans groups expressed outrage and protested the award calling for its retraction via a formal petition. Here’s why.
On the 19th of November 2005 a Marine squad conducting combat operations in Haditha, Iraq was ambushed. Finding themselves under hostile fire, Marines did exactly what Marines are trained to do—they responded aggressively with force and death followed. The incident involved “civilians” and was serious and, not surprisingly, there was call for formal investigations. Media—never one to let fact muddle a juicy story—interest and coverage was extensive. Marines were being “tried” on air and in print and not according to the American way of justice.
Well before the investigative work was complete, Murtha decided to go public against eight Marines under scrutiny. Armed with only preliminary information, he went on television and referred to the Marines as cold-blooded killers who murdered innocent civilian women and children. He, of all people, should have known better.
Murtha’s an eagle scout. He was an enlisted Marine with a tour of duty as a Drill Instructor before earning a commission. Familiar with the chaos of combat, he was awarded a Bronze Star with Combat “V,” two Purple Hearts, and a Combat Action Ribbon, among other decorations for his service in Viet Nam. He retired as a Colonel (Reserve). You would think that someone who’s “been there done that” would err on the side of caution before baselessly pointing fingers at fellow countrymen—especially brother Marines—working under the strains of combat. A “leader” with his wealth of experience as a Boy Scout, senior Marine officer, and long-time member of the House, he should have remembered there is always more, far more, to the story than initial reports. Patiently wait and the truth will come out. For whatever reason, Murtha set a lifetime’s worth of experience aside and engaged his mouth before his two eyes, two ears, and brain had an opportunity to gather facts, digest, and draw sane conclusions.
Aside from completely disregarding due process to sort out fact from fiction, Murtha overlooked the fact that in the United States of America one is innocent until proven guilty—even under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. A uniform only subjects men and women to greater standards of personal conduct and scrutiny—it does not negate their rights; those afforded all citizens. Still more troubling is Murtha broke from the Corps’ motto—Semper Fidelis—“Always Faithful” long before justice was to be served. Marines just do not do that—though they can be extremely tough on each other once fact is sorted out. As was the case with the recent harsh disciplining of Marines involved with the F-18 crash in a San Diego neighborhood that wiped out one man’s family. A tragedy indeed and a preventable one as the investigation revealed. In the Corps, responsibility and accountability go hand-in-hand. As a Corps bumper sticker once sported, “To err is human, to forgive divine. Neither of which is Marine Corps policy.”
As of the middle of last month, one Marine involved in the Haditha incident had been found not guilty, charges were dropped against six others, and due process for the remaining Marine has been indefinitely delayed. Rest assured these results came about through exhaustive investigative work and meticulously conducted legal proceedings. No matter—for the lives of those Marines will never be the same. In the end, all premature accusations of a reckless massacre carried out by the Marines spouted by Murtha were rigorously vetted through due process and discredited. To this day and despite the facts, Murtha has not apologized to those he wrongly charged, tried, convicted, and punished in the public arena. His unwillingness to right his wrong is pompous and literally unbelievable.
Completely contrary to the award citation, Murtha did not ensure the Marines were provided the resources necessary to effectively conduct the Global War on Terrorism. He did not provide them the support of their elected leadership. He did not provide them the support of a fellow Marine. Through his thoughtless and ill-founded accusations spewed in the public arena he did not provide those Marines the public’s support. In fact, Murtha’s position as a Congressman gave credibility, albeit unwarranted, to his despicable comments and he only further angered those opposing the war. “His courageous leadership, vision, and loyalty to the men and women of the Department of the Navy,” noted in the citation, are likewise comical platitudes. Surely if Murtha himself did not draft the citation a close aide did.
Through the military justice process, the Marines were proven not to be cold-blooded killers of innocents. They are not war criminals. Murtha owes those Marines, the Corps, and all who wear and have ever worn a military uniform of the United States a long overdue apology in a public forum. In fact, he owes America an apology. And though he can retract his words and apologize, he can never undue the damage he did. His behavior was shameful—as citizen, Marine, and Congressman. Should anyone be surprised that it was less than six months ago that he, again in the public arena, referred to his constituency as racists and rednecks? How in the world did this man continue to get re-elected? Perhaps someone from the Keystone State’s 12th District can enlighten us all?
That a sitting Congressman, and one privileged to claim the title “Marine,” turned his back on his nation’s warriors when they most needed his support is nauseating. Winter presenting Murtha a distinguished service award is difficult to understand. Why? Was the Navy Secretary so out of touch with reality that he did not appreciate the outrage that would explode rewarding a dolt for unapologetic treasonous comments? Murtha did not merit the prestigious award. In fact, if Murtha had any sense of honor there would be no need for the award to be rescinded—he’d voluntarily return it with a written apology for his unprofessional conduct.
The day before writing this commentary, I read an article about Lance Corporal Brady A. Gustafson, USMC. Lance Corporal Gustafson, who hails from Eagan, Minnesota, a turret gunner with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines was recently awarded the Navy Cross for incredible bravery and heroism when his patrol was ambushed on a highway in Afghanistan on the 21st of July 2008. In part, his citation reads: “Lance Corporal Gustafson braved the effects of shock and reloaded his weapon twice…firing more than 400 rounds before he allowed himself to be pulled from his turret and receive medical treatment.” His right leg was hit by the rocket-propelled grenade that launched the ambush. When queried about his combat actions following the award ceremony, Gustafson humbly said, “I was just doing my job.”
“I was just doing my job”—Gustafson and hundreds of thousands of young men and women just like him voluntarily serving in dangerous spots around the globe—“Just doing their jobs”—deserve our unwavering support. You would think the unwavering support from citizens entrusted with public office would be a given. Murtha proved such just is not the case. Too bad he could not have restrained himself and, like Lance Corporal Gustafson, “Just did his job.” As Twain once opined, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” And, “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Apparently not much has changed since Twain’s day and Murtha is not a reader of Twain.
Yes, indeed, the hardly distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania “Searched for the Guilty,” “Punished the Innocent,” and true to form garnered “Praise and Honor as a Non-participant.” Right in line with the sage lesson I learned from a senior officer nearly three decades ago. At the time of this writing an on-line petition, spearheaded by Vets for Freedom, has amassed nearly 53,000 signatures and the list continues to grow calling for Murtha’s award to be rescinded. The only qualification for signing the petition is to be American. If you are a patriot and likewise outraged, and have not already done so, then take a moment to let your voice be heard.
Sign the petition at: http://www.petitiononline.com/usmc2009/petition.html Semper Fidelis!