John Patrick “Jack” Murtha, Jr. was born June 17, 1932 in New Martinsville, West Virginia, and spent most of his early life in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. He attended Ramsey High School, where he lettered three years in basketball and football, graduating in 1951. He then attended Kiskiminetas Springs School before enrolling at Washington and Jefferson College, where he once again played football.
Strong feelings about the Korean War and patriotism led him to enlist as a private in the United States Marine Corps in June of 1952. He was assigned to the 13th Officer Candidate Screening Course and upon completion was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. In 1955, he finished two and a half years of active duty as 1st Lt. in the United States Marine Corps, then used his G.I. Bill to attend the University of Pittsburgh while working at a gas station. He and his wife, Joyce, moved to Johnstown, Pa., in 1958, with their three children (Donna, John, and Patrick). Murtha was the owner and manager of the Johnstown Minute Car Wash, the first of its kind in western Pennsylvania, washing up to 1,200 cars on Saturdays with up to 36 employees. He also attended the Johnstown campus of the University of Pittsburgh as well as the Pittsburgh campus of the University of Pittsburgh part-time in order to complete his B.A. in Economics by 1961. Murtha completed graduate work at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Murtha volunteered for active duty in Vietnam in 1966 where he spent one year as an intelligence officer with the First Marines. He was wounded twice while participating in five major operations south of Da Nang for which he received two awards of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal with V device.
After returning home, Murtha began his political career by winning the Democratic nomination for U.S. Representative from the Johnstown district. He lost in the general election, however, to longtime incumbent Republican John Saylor. Nonetheless, Murtha tried again and was elected to represent the 72nd legislative district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in a special election in the spring of 1969 upon the death of Rep. Edward McNally. State Rep. Murtha was then elected to a full term in 1970, and served in this capacity until 1973.
The unexpected death of Congressman John P. Saylor in late 1973 saw State Rep. Murtha running for Congress in a 1974 special election. A tight race against his opponent, Harry Fox, left Murtha the winner and a newly elected member of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress in 1974 – the first combat veteran from Vietnam to serve in the House of Representatives.
For the next 36 years, Rep. Murtha would play an integral role in areas such as defense, energy, and healthcare. He was a longtime ranking member of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, chairing it from 1989-1995 and again from 2007 until his death in 2010. Additionally, Rep. Murtha advocated for those in his district and created numerous economic opportunities for his constituents; he co-founded the Congressional Steel Caucus in 1979 and was successful in bringing a number of companies and institutions into the region, including Sony and Carnegie Mellon University's Computer Energy Response Team and the Software Engineering Institute, among others.
In addition to a prominent presence on the national stage, Rep. Murtha was a recognized expert on national security matters and he played a key role in advising on international affairs. In his time in Congress, he was frequently tasked to visit the world's hot spots and to survey and assess the situation and advise on the role the United States should play. Some of those countries he traveled to were Vietnam, Panama, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, all the countries in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Balkans. Rep. Murtha served on the newly established House Subcommittee on Select Intelligence Oversight Panel in the wake of 9/11.
On November 17, 2005, Rep. Murtha came out as an opponent of the war and occupation of Iraq calling it a "flawed policy wrapped in illusion." While those in support of the war, including the President, condemned Murtha's remarks, many applauded his efforts and his courage to speak out against the conflict.
On February 8, 2010, John P. Murtha died from complications of gallbladder surgery. After 36 years in office he was the longest serving congressman in Pennsylvania history.