- James Thom
One day not long ago, I told Andy Jacobs, "I think your one regret in life is that you weren't Kin Hubbard."
He grinned and nodded. "Or maybe Will Rogers."
By the time we became octogenarians, we had both decided that the most effective weapon — or tool — is the bon mot.
Andy honed the power of cogent speech in 30 years in the House of Representatives. Ralph Nader once called him "the conscience of Congress."
When he was pioneering the argument that the U. S. should get out of Vietnam, a pro-war Congressman snarled, "So you think we should leave Vietnam half-done, the way you did Korea?" Andy, an infantryman in that war, parried:
"We lost one half of my company in one night there. Is that what you mean by 'half-done?'"
Andy got the Purple Heart for a head wound in North Korea, but eventually was crippled by after-effects of freezing and strain on his feet and legs in that legendary North Korean winter campaign. The last few years of his life, friends had to visit him at his bedside. Though frustrated terribly by the immobility, he kept battling against war and other forms of stupidity with his "Thought Bites," his powerful, witty one-liners published in NUVO. He also kept writing terse, sensible letters to Congress. He wrote a good book, The 1600 Killers, against presidents who kept starting wars that wasted lives and resources, circumventing Congress's Constitutional prerogative to declare war.
That's how we became friends: when we were both protesting against the Bush Administration's illegal and stupid invasion of Iraq. We were outraged by it. It was disgracing our country.
We had known of each other long before we met. He liked my writing; I liked his politics. We had both been in the First Marine Division in Korea, but at different times. He was there during the really rough part. Both of us had come by our respective reasonings to believe that war is no solution.
Andy idolized his father, whom I met long before I met Andy. I worked for the Indianapolis Star when Eugene Pulliam published it, and Pulliam was always politically anti-Jacobs, father and then son. Andy's dad summoned me for a deposition in one of their legal tangles. He was such a gentleman, and so fair, that I immediately liked him better than my own boss. The son emulated his father: tough but gentle.
Andy's speeches were brief, straight to the point, and usually funny or inspiring as well. On a panel at Ivy Tech in Bloomington, somebody in the audience asked him about the Iraq war, and his answer was, "It's always a good idea to stop doing the wrong thing." The applause almost raised the roof.
He had to give his last public speech in a wheelchair. It was on Veterans Day 2012 at the Indiana War Memorial, where the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library ran a day-long program about healing veterans through arts and writing. The auditorium was full of veterans young and old, rapt as Andy told about a day he expected to die: He and a fellow Marine were out in the open, carrying a mortally wounded comrade on a stretcher, when someone warned, "Bazooka!" They looked up and saw a Chinese rocket-launcher team aiming straight at them. There was nowhere to hide.
But then the enemy soldier, instead of firing, waved his left hand, signaling them to keep going.
As a Congressman years later, Andy related that incident to a Chinese diplomat at a state dinner. He told us the envoy's reply:
"Even in the hell of war, humanity might be found."
There were few dry eyes there after that. Andy Jacobs the wordsmith had done it again.
My wife and I were sitting in Andy's room the two nights before he died. His nephews had been entertaining him with guitar music and racy limericks. Andy loved limericks, which are, of course, short and witty. He wrote great ones himself.
His eyes were closed and he could barely speak. My wife leaned toward him and said, "Anything we can do for you, Andy?"
He whispered, "Keep talking."