Two local authors will give the public an insight into what it took to write their chronicle of how the late Congressman John Murtha decided to go before the national media to declare the war in Iraq as “a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.”
Brad Clemenson and Jim Penna will discuss their collaboration of “Murtha: War Fighter, Fighting for the Soul of America” during a reading and reception at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center, 201 Sixth Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.
“This book is about the circumstances that prompted Mr. Murtha to call for the redeployment of our men and women serving in Iraq,” said Penna, a former broadcast journalist.
Penna currently serves as district director for U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, Murtha’s successor.
Penna recalls how he met with Murtha prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the congressman expressed concern that terrorists would use airplanes as weapons against the United States. That prompted Penna to write a book.
“Mr. Murtha died, and I had just finished my first draft,” Penna said.
Murtha died Feb. 8, 2010, after gallbladder surgery. He was 77.
Penna asked Clemenson, who had been an aide for Murtha for 17 years, for input on his original book draft.
They decided to work together to take the book in a different direction.
Murtha was a Democrat who represented Pennsylvania’s 12th district in the House of Representatives from 1974 until his death.
A Vietnam veteran, Murtha was known for working behind the scenes and often backed Republicans on defense issues.
He rose to even greater national prominence when he spoke out against the war in Iraq.
“The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion,” he told the press.
With those words, Murtha set America on a new course.
“The challenge of the book was trying to fill in the gaps of who Jack Murtha was and how he came to the decision to be against the war,” Clemenson said.
The authors agreed that Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and undeniable hawk, was the only person in Washington who had both the credibility and courage to withstand the venomous attacks when he called for redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq.
“Had former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said what Murtha did, she would have been branded a coward,” Clemenson said.
“People tried to label him a coward but they couldn’t because he was an avid hawk throughout his 31 years in Congress.”
Murtha’s attitude is summed up in the subtext of the book’s title, “Fighting for the Soul of America.”
That fight was partly about getting American troops out of the crossfire of Iraq’s civil war.
It was also a fight to end the vicious name-calling of politics and allow America to have an open, civil discussion about the country’s course.
“It took a great deal of courage to stand up and go against the policy in this regard,” Penna said.
“But there was no greater champion in support of our troops and their families than Jack Murtha.”
The event is free and open to the public.
A brief reception and book signing with refreshments and cash bar will take place afterward.
The 275-page book is available online, at the Heritage Center and at Johnstown Flood Museum. The price is $15.95.
Meet the writers
What: Book signing and reception for “Murtha: War Fighter, Fighting for the Soul of America.”
Where: Heritage Discovery Center, 201 Sixth Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.