Guest Post: Pete McCloskey on His Friend, Jerry Waldie

(Pete wrote this essay a week or so before Jerry died and showed it to Jerry, who loved it. It will be appearing in this week’s Mountain Democrat. Best — Helen McCloskey)

There is a man amongst us who, like one of the ancient Redwoods, stands taller than most.

His name is Jerry Waldie.

This modest personage has earned the total respect and affection of everyone who has known him.  As a legislator, both in Sacramento and Washington, he did great things, among others being service on the House Judiciary Committee of 1974 which earned a brief respect for the Congress in its deliberations leading to the voting of Articles of Impeachment against President Nixon some 35 years ago.

Jerry is one of the few persons I have known who is totally without guile, of unimpeachable honesty, and yet with a burning passion against oppression, injustice and cruelty to animals.

At 83, disabled by a myriad of debilitating aches and illnesses, taking a plethora of pills four times daily with injections for diabetes, barely able to walk or talk above a whisper, he seeks no pity and continues to write a column on current events every two weeks for his local newspaper.

He played a particular role in my own life, going on a two-week tour of Viet Nam and Laos with me in the spring of 1971 during the heart of the Viet Nam War.

Particularly horrified by the devastation of the countryside and the small village of My Lai where a young Army lieutenant ordered the machine-gunning of over 200 women, children and old people, Jerry forced me against my will to go with him to the hospital at Long Binh where we saw dozens of injured American soldiers.

One in particular — a strapping young Marine of 18 — looked almost identical to my son Pete, then 20 and facing the draft.  He wore only green skivvy shorts, and had one vacant eye and a bandage around his head.

The doctors told us he was doomed to a lifetime of living like a vegetable.

I wouldn’t have seen him but for Jerry’s insistence. And it was that event, as I look back on it 38 years later, that impelled me to return to the United States with the view, indeed the obsession, that someone had to challenge (President) Nixon in New Hampshire as Gene McCarthy had challenged Lyndon Johnson four years earlier.

The challenge was of course doomed, but it was due to Jerry Waldie’s quiet conviction and support that it was made at all.

After we both retired from Congress we were to enjoy several backpacking trips in the High Sierra with my wife, Helen, who has confessed to me that she loves Jerry more than me.

We have laughed heartily over one occasion when I stumbled into camp in the Emigrant Basin, to be fed by Jerry and Helen with a trail mix they had concocted which included a substantial portion of deer droppings.

In a day where the practice of politics often brings to mind Mark Twain’s famous observation – “There is only one distinctive criminal class in America; it is the Congress” — the reputation of Jerry Waldie stands with those of the greatest: the John Chafees, Sam Nunns and Clair Engles and Paul Douglases of earlier years.

May he continue to be blessed with his wife of 61 years, the loyal Joanne, the indomitable Nurse Cratchit.

— Pete McCloskey, Member of Congress, 1967-1983.

Filed under: California History


  1. Just lovely. Thanks for including it.

    Comment by Smokey's Gal — 4.15.2009 @ 4:18 pm

  2. Well, Pete IS a rarity: strongly held principles, disagreements, no rancor. He was close to jerry. I never understood the frog stuff, but I loved the Nixon stuff.

    Comment by Pat Henning — 4.17.2009 @ 8:43 pm

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