JOHNSTOWN, Pa. - Critics and supporters of U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha held competing rallies this weekend with reproach and praise for the leading voice in Washington for pulling troops out of Iraq.
Critics demonstrated in his hometown Sunday, a day after the Democrat's supporters staged an event there.
Murtha, a 16-term congressman, has been the focus of controversy in the past year over his criticism of the war in Iraq and repeated calls for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
He spent 37 years in the Marine Corps, retiring as a colonel in 1990. As a reservist in the mid-1960s, he served in Vietnam and was given two purple hearts, a Bronze Star and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.
He is being challenged in his re-election bid by Republican Diana Irey, who did not attend Sunday's rally. She says she was spurred to run by Murtha's stance on the war.
The protest at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, which attracted close to 1,000 people, was organized "to show that our total support for the troops is there," said rally organizer Harry Beam, a Vietnam veteran.
Although Murtha has voiced support for the troops, "his actions are far less than supporting the military effort and/or the soldiers," Beam said.
Speakers included David Beamer, whose son Todd Beamer was killed when United Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001, according to Vets for the Truth, the group that organized the rally.
An estimated 2,000 people - including former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark and Murtha himself - turned out Saturday at Johnstown's Central Park to support Murtha.
Speakers there called Murtha, a member of the House committee that helps control defense spending, a great friend of soldiers.
Murtha repeated his criticism of the war effort while expressing sympathy for U.S. troops.
"You know what this war's doing? It's tearing the families apart," he said. "I don't appreciate these people sitting on their fat backsides in the White House, sending our young people to war when they don't understand the circumstances."
Michael L. Young, a retired public affairs professor from Penn State University, Harrisburg, who now runs an opinion research firm, has said there is no indication Murtha will lose his seat.
In August, Murtha was sued by a Marine Corps sergeant under investigation in connection with the deaths of Iraqi civilians in Haditha.
The defamation suit alleges that Murtha falsely accused Frank D. Wuterich, 26, of "cold-blooded murder and war crimes." But Wuterich's lawyers have acknowledged that Murtha identified Wuterich's squad, not Wuterich himself.