Meleia Egger (Malawi 2007-09) wrote a poem in the summer of 2011 in honor of the 50th Anniversary. She recently put the poem up on YouTube
check it out at:
where returned Volunteers share their expertise and experiences
Meleia Egger (Malawi 2007-09) wrote a poem in the summer of 2011 in honor of the 50th Anniversary. She recently put the poem up on YouTube
check it out at:
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers - please join Peace Corps staff and Volunteers past and future as we pitch in to encourage volunteerism in honor of those lost on 9/11.
Join us on April 21, 2013 for the 9/11 Memorial 5K Run/Walk and Family Day!
The Peace Corps and RPCVs from the Greater New York City area have been invited to volunteer at this year’s Family Day. This free community event will include activities for all ages and food and refreshments. It will also offer information about the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as well as ways to learn more about volunteer opportunities in the spirit of the National 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance.
The date of the Run/Walk and Family Day - April 21 - marks the anniversary President Barack Obama signed into law legislation making 9/11 a day of service and volunteerism in the memory of the victims of the 2001 attacks.
9/11 Memorial 5K Run/Walk & Family Day
Sunday, April 21st
Shift Times: 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.; 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Register no later than FRIDAY, APRIL 5th!
The Run/Walk and Family Day will take place in lower Manhattan, taking participants on a historic route passing important places that are part of the 9/11 story. The route will also symbolize how we came together to support one another in the aftermath of 9/11, including those Peace Corps staff and RPCVs who were familiar with the former Peace Corps New York Regional Office which was then located in Building 6 of the World Trade Center.
All participants will receive a free t-shirt the day of the event. Want to take on a leadership role? We are looking for a few individuals who would be interested in being our Team Leaders for the two shifts. This will include a training that will be held Monday, April 11th from 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm. Details will be sent to those interested (you may indicate this on your registration form).
Feel free to contact Andrea Fellows, Public Affairs Coordinator, at email@example.com. I hope you will consider joining us to show Peace Corps support for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum!
Peace Corps Northeast Regional Office
201 Varick Street
New York, NY 10014
There were three PCVs who began their Peace Corps experience as employees of the agency in Washington, D.C., in early 1961 working at the original HQ the Maiatico Building across the street from Lafayette Square Park, and within sight of the White House. Two of them were Alan and Judith Guskin (Thailand 1961-64) who had on the night of October 14, 1960, created the ground surge for the Peace Corps on college campuses, first in Michigan, and then across the Mid West and the rest of America. Later they would go to Thailand as PCVs.
The other person was Blair Butterworth. I am not sure how Blair arrived at the Peace Corps, or why, but he did arrive, a recent graduate of Princeton, and moved into Georgetown with another buddy, and started working as staff for the Peace Corps before going to Ghana as a PCV.
Last year, at the 50thanniversary of the agency, I help organize a breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel for all the Mad Men and Women who had created the agency in the winter of 1961. I asked Bill Moyers and Harris Wofford to be co-speaker, and former Peace Corps Director, Mark Gearan was the MC at the morning breakfast on Saturday of the weekend
In the course of the morning, in the midst of Q&A about “how the Peace Corps began” Bill Moyers asked his friend, Blair Butterworth, to tell his story of the first Peace Corps Recruitment trip.
Blair who lived in Settle, Washington died on Friday. He stood up at the breakfast and told this amazing story that I for one had never heard before. (And believe me; I have heard a lot of Peace Corps stories.)
Here is what Blair had to say on that Saturday on the 50th anniversary of the agency. If nothing else, it proves we have as a nation come a long way.
Blair Butterworth (Ghana 1962-64)
In the fall of ‘61, as a prelude to directly recruiting on college campuses, Shriver wanted to introduce the Peace Corps to the country in a series of well-publicized two-day regional conferences. Attendees were those who had contact with potential volunteers, such as college counselors, youth group and community leaders, YMCA’s and YWCA’s, church leaders of all denominations, 4-H, and similar groups who networked with youth. There were 13 conferences scheduled.
Two of us, Tom and myself, split up the conferences. Out task was to help organize and advance them. For about six weeks I was on the road without being able to catch my breath. It was incredible the amount of work. Shriver, Moyers and other top staff went to almost every one, so there was a lot of pressure. We developed a standard agenda starting with a description of the Peace Corps itself, what the Peace Corps wanted, what sort of volunteers we were looking for, what could they expect overseas, what countries had asked for volunteers.
Needless to say, a lot of the developing countries had figured out that Shriver was indeed the President’s brother-in-law, so why shouldn’t they ask for volunteers and please the new President.
There were automatically dozens and dozens of requests from all kinds of countries to have Peace Corps volunteers, and it was up to the Peace Corps to see if they were serious requests, and whether we had the volunteers to go. Initially most of the volunteers we sent were BA liberals who had just or recently graduated from college. There were some specialists - engineers, agricultural specialists etc - but mostly it was just kids like me, right out of schools who were willing to get trained and then dive in and go to work.
There was one of my 7 conferences that I’ll always remember, Atlanta. I had just finished advancing the conference in Oklahoma City, and was getting on an airplane to go to Portland, Oregon, when I was paged at the Oklahoma City Airport. I was actually going up the ramp to get on the plane when I heard the page. The airline said I had about 10 minutes, so I ran back and took the call, and they said, “You’re going to Atlanta.”
I tried but was unable to get my bag off the plane, but I arranged for it to be sent to Atlanta. They told me that Tom, who was handling the other conferences, had gone to Atlanta and found out the Sheraton hotel that we’d book would not allow an integrated event; there was a big mess, and some of the local Atlanta black leaders we’d invited were all upset. Moyers called me and said that I had to straighten it out. (For some reason because my Dad was from New Orleans they thought I would be able to find a solution!)
So Tom took Portland and I arrived in Atlanta and went directly to the Sheraton. I met with the manager, and he said there was no way they are were going to have an integrated conference at the hotel. When the Peace Corps had booked the hotel, no one had explained to him that this was going to be integrated. (We had booked all 13 conferences through the Sheraton system, which I think was headquartered in Boston. I guess they didn’t know the rules of the old south!)
I told the manager, “Well, I’m in a real predicament, and for the Peace Corps this is going to be extremely embarrassing, and unless we find a place it will be very embarrassing for you as well, because frankly we’re going to lay the whole blame on you. The Sheraton chain accepted our business. In fact I can see this event leading to some national boycott of all government and other conferences in all Sheraton hotels. It could be one hell of a mess and you don’t know Sarge Shriver if you think he will back down”
At that point the manager volunteered that the city had a public facility we might use and he would help facilitate our booking it, even in short notice. And if that worked they would cater the event and find hotel rooms for all the black invitees, give the others rooms at the Sheraton at half price and would do it all for a minimum fee as long as we could work together for a solution.
Coincidently, when I was at Princeton one of my friends was Ivan Allen, whose father had been Mayor of Atlanta. So I called Ivan and said, “I’m in deep doo-doo here, and I need to get to the Mayor.” Ivan responded, “Oh, the Mayor is a big buddy of my dad’s. Let me set something up for you.”
In half an hour I got a call back, saying the Mayor could see me at such-and-such time. I went to meet with him and told him what the dilemma was. The city did have this sort of armory, where they did have public meetings. He said that they had not had any large integrated meetings there, but it was time. And it was a public place. I assume that integrated conferences in those days just didn’t happen in the South. It wasn’t a question of where you met; it was a question of it being someplace other than the South. This was 1961; the Civil Rights Act hadn’t passed. None of those laws were in place.
So I made the arrangement to switch the conference location, and we got notices out to all of the people who were coming. I got the Sheraton to pay for corresponding with all the people who’d made room reservations and all this kind of stuff. Again, this was the Peace Corps, which had captured everyone’s imagination, and it was the brother-in-law of the President of the United States. Everybody knew that the time had come. We were not going to be segregated for the rest of America’s life. It was just a question of how it was going to change. Needless to say, I was sweating bullets, because we had people at the Sheraton who didn’t get the notices and people going here and there. I rented a bus that would take people to the conference space. Interestingly enough, the African Americans who were coming to the conference, all of them had made arrangements to spend the night at places other than the Sheraton. This would never have occurred to me.
Because it had been so traumatic, instead of going on to advance the next conference, I decided to stay just to be sure that everything went well. It was really quite extraordinary. The first day of the conference, Bill Moyers spoke, giving an introduction to the Peace Corps. There was a good turnout, maybe 30 tables of 10 or 15 people each. After introducing the other staff and welcoming everybody, something instinctive switched on in Bill’s head and he asked, “Would everyone from Alabama please stand up?” And about twenty-some people stood, and they were all sitting together at 2 tables. Blacks and whites all sitting together. Then he said, “Would everybody from Georgia stand?” And they too were all together at the same tables. All the people from each state had integrated themselves. It’s hard now, so many years later, to understand it, but as Moyers went down the list and people stood up at the same tables, applause broke out and got louder and louder. There were even people crying. When Bill got to Mississippi, and all of the Mississippi people were sitting together, Moyers choked up. Everyone including the black the waiters applauded, cried, laughed and shook hands. It was such an incredible emotional moment. Yes, we were cheering the New Frontier and the Peace Corps, but really we were cheering the beginning of a new era.
The conference was a huge success. The story about the Sheraton was never really written, but the Atlanta Constitution gave us a lot of press. On the last day of the conference, they wrote an editorial that talked about the need for change in Atlanta. It talked about the Peace Corps pulled off something that had not been pulled off before. It said, “It took a 23-year-old future Peace Corps volunteer from Princeton University to come to town and show us that we could have an integrated conference in this great city”
The recent advanced screening “premiere” at the Cape Cod Cinema was a stunning success, the result of many things coming together. Not only was it a fabulous experience to show the film in the great Cape Cinema with Eric Hart at the helm of this extraordinary community resource, but they also had a nice party afterward at the Dennis Inn in Dennis, MA. .
A few days ago, Cape Cod Times columnist Sean Gonsalves stopped by to interview Rowland and Chris Szwedeo who made “Eye on the Sixties” which I’m happy to share here.
By Sean Gonsalves
January 20, 2013
End credits roll down the screen. A capacity crowd at the Cape Cinema in Dennis last Sunday stands and applauds for a minute-and-a-half.
They’d just seen “Eye on the Sixties,” a 90-minute documentary based on the photos of Rowland Scherman, a photojournalist from Orleans who captured some of the most striking images ofthat era.
“To learn about this photographer and to see it through his eyes was inspirational. The ovation was well deserved and sincere,” said Kirk Vazal of Pocasset, solar power plant developer and screenwriter who attended the advance screening.
I’ve only seen segments of the documentary in the basement studio of Chris Szwedo, the man who made “Eye on the Sixties.” But from those clips and from chatting up Scherman himself, I have an inkling of why the long standing O.
Szwedo, a child of the ’60s himself, said the impetus for the independently produced two-year project was sweet serendipity.
“I happened upon (Scherman’s) photos at that mall at the intersection of Route 6A and Route 28 in Orleans. I saw John Lennon in the window. Inside, there were a couple of rows of these beautiful photographs (of) heroic and famous people. They looked like they came out of one eye and I wanted to know who did it,” the Eastham filmmaker said.
The photos Szwedo first saw were only a small fraction of the images Scherman’s camera captured over his long and distinguished career as a photojournalist.
He was the first photographer for the Peace Corps, LIFE magazine’s special assignment photographer, personal photographer of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign, LIFE’s special photographer for Sen. Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign, and a Grammy Award winner for Bob Dylan’s 1967 Greatest Hits album cover.
Scherman was also the primary photographer for the United States Information Agency’s coverage of the March on Washington in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Even with a resume that includes portraits of JFK, RFK, MLK, the first Beatles concert in America, a young Dylan, Janis Joplin, Woodstock, and tennis champ Arthur Ashe, Scherman told me it wasn’t obvious at the time that he was bearing witness to an array of culturally momentous people and events.
In retrospect, he realizes what happened in the ’60s set in motion a social paradigm still with us today, as we prepare to celebrate the legacy of a civil rights leader who, in many aspects, embodied the spirit of the age.
“The ’60s was an astonishing era on so many levels,” Scherman said. “It was the apex of extreme hope and extreme disappointment. The world was in flux.”
From the 1930s until the end of the ’60s, he said, photojournalism seemed the pre-eminent media, before TV became dominant. “I certainly bought into that mystique (of photojournalism) - exciting, romantic,” he said.
Then Watergate. Breathtaking technological advances. A turn toward info-tainment. The media landscape has shifted, drastically. And while the cameras have gotten more sophisticated with little computerized Ansel Adams inside the gadgets even amateurs now use, substance and quality seem more difficult to find, he said.
“There’s a war in Afghanistan but the lead story is Britney Spears’ new shorts?! What? There’s a war going on. Who cares about Britney’s new outfit?”
Szwedo picked up on the observation. “Yeah, and name one image that came out of the Gulf War that anyone can remember now? Maybe the oil fields on fire … But not one person do you see suffering. In Vietnam, there’s tons of people suffering. The little girl running down the road or the guy getting shot in the head,” Szwedo said.
“Once, we ran page after page after page of the 350 GIs killed during that one week,” Scherman said of his tenure at LIFE.
Yet, even with war, race riots and soul-sapping assassinations of major leaders, it wasn’t all turmoil and tragedy. There were triumphs, especially the music.
“Bobby Kennedy loved the Beatles. He was singing ‘Good Day Sunshine’ on the campaign trail,” Scherman recalled. “Gordon Parks was the coolest guy I’d ever seen … And Janis Joplin’s concerts were incomparable. No one ever sent shivers up my spine like she did.”
Much has been written about the ’60s. Still, Szwedo felt compelled to link the faded memories of yesterday with the dominant visual media of today, using Scherman’s photojournalism as the bridge.
Szwedo compares making “Eye on the Sixties,” which involved revisiting the locations where Scherman shot his photographs, to climbing a mountain. Getting to the top is only half the journey.
Now, it’s a question of drumming up more interest, he said, adding that he’s negotiating with PBS to air the documentary later this year. He’s also thinking about submitting it to a few film festivals and getting it into theaters across the country.
Before I left Szwedo’s house, he told me about a talk he gave in California recently where he showed the part of the documentary covering the March on Washington. A 28-year-old college-educated audience member asked: “‘Hey, who’s that dignified looking guy with the white hair in the audience?’ ‘That’s Jackie Robinson,’ I said. He didn’t know … That’s why I made the film.”
[On Friday I received the following e-mail from the Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carrie Hessler-Radelet concerning honoring Ambassador Chris Stevens. She asked me to share it with all of you who read our blog items. John Coyne]
November 30, 2012
Dear Members of the Peace Corps Family:
I recently met with Ambassador Chris Stevens’s sister, Anne, to offer condolences and support on behalf of the Peace Corps community. Her graciousness and her desire to help further the important bridge-building work of her brother is both moving and inspiring.
In response to your petition, I committed to keeping you informed about the dedication of the Ambassador Stevens photo in History Hall of Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. We were originally thinking that we would have a dedication ceremony in mid-December at the same time as the State Department memorial service for Ambassador Stevens. We heard from Anne Stevens yesterday that the State Department service will take place in May 2013, when the Secretary of State will dedicate a star to Ambassador Stevens in a special ceremony. Therefore, she requested that we wait until May for our History Hall dedication ceremony so that the Stevens family can attend the event. We will provide you with further information in the new year.
In the meantime, Anne Stevens has asked us to share the following message:
“Our family is touched by the outpouring of support from the RPCV community, and we are hearing a common thread - that RPCVs want to do something to honor Chris’s commitment and contributions to cross-cultural understanding. While there are many ways to further the ideals of peace and understanding that were so important to Chris and, inarguably, to all of you who decided to serve your country in the Peace Corps, our family has an “ask” for you: Please make a pledge to share a piece of the knowledge and understanding you gained as a Peace Corps Volunteer with our young people here in the U.S. Whether you served in Morocco or Burkina Faso, Jordan or Mongolia, Peru or Vanuatu - you have a gift that you can pass along to those of us who will never know firsthand the men and the women and the children of the places you served. Whether you speak in a classroom, a library, a board room, or a coffee shop, we hope you will get out and do this one thing to help strengthen our human connections and promote a better understanding of other cultures.
We have learned from the Peace Corps that Peace Corps Week 2013 will take place February 24 - March 2, 2013. While any time of year is a good time to pay peace forward, we hope you will pledge to make your mark on bridging the human divide by committing to a Third Goal activity here: https://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/thirdgoal/register/.”
We are so grateful for the Stevens family’s support for Peace Corps’ Third Goal and hope that all of you who are interested in honoring Ambassador Stevens will consider how you can carry out his legacy during Peace Corps week in late February - and beyond.
Thanks for your continued commitment to the Peace Corps.
Acting Peace Corps Director
RPCV Western Samoa ‘81 - ‘83
“Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.” - Sargent Shriver
written by Eric Katz in Goverment Executive
November 20, 2012
Peace Corps volunteer Megan Chandler worked with a women’s cooperative in Uganda from 2003 to 2006 on health education.
As required by the Federal Employee Compensation Act, volunteers who serve abroad as part of the Peace Corps are entitled to reimbursement for health care costs resulting from service-related illnesses. Labor oversees FECA applications and payments, while the Peace Corps is responsible for informing returning volunteers they are eligible for the benefits.
The Government Accountability Office report said the two agencies are failing to monitor and inform volunteers on the documents needed and application requirements to apply for the benefits. Labor is not tracking how long it is taking to review applications and provide reimbursements, nor is it assessing the availability of FECA-registered health care providers.
GAO recommended the Labor secretary and Peace Corps director work together to come up with a comprehensive plan to ensure all available information is being utilized to improve the FECA program for volunteers. The auditors said neither agency has all the information it needs on its own, so they must work together to monitor the program’s efficiency.
“Because both of the agencies have certain responsibilities related to the provision of FECA benefits for eligible volunteers who return from service abroad,” GAO wrote in its report, “it is especially important that the Peace Corps and DoL jointly monitor the accessibility and quality of the FECA program to ensure that the FECA program is achieving its intended objectives.”
Labor provides FECA benefits to about 1,400 Peace Corps volunteers each year, paying the average recipient about $5,000 in reimbursements. GAO said returning volunteers often require medical attention because of the nature of their work.
“The volunteers are a unique population compared to others who receive benefits under FECA,” the auditors wrote. “For example, they are more likely to have mental, emotional, or nervous conditions that are service-connected.”
In responding to the report, neither agency indicated whether it agreed with GAO’s recommendation. Want to contribute to this story? Share your addition in comments.Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis - Sign up for Gov Exec’s email newsletters.
Rowland Scherman and Chris Szwedo were interviewed this past Sunday on Cape Cod’s Ocean 104 FM “Sunday Journal”.
They discuss the making of the documentary and offer insights and previews of the many things to come.
Interview Length: approximately 24 minutes.
Just click the above link and it will stream. Thanks for listening!
Chris Szwedo has made a movie of Rowland Scherman’s life with Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and JFK and Bobby, and, of course the Peace Corps.
The movie title is “Eye on the Sixties: The Iconic Photography of Rowland Scherman” Rowland’s first professional job was as the Peace Corps’ official photographer. He started in the spring of 1961.
In late 1962 a guy from Peace Corps Washington arrived in Addis Ababa to visit the first PCVs in-country. We Volunteers were getting a lot of ’official’ visitors in Ethiopia then. I mean, Shriver came to Ethiopia, came right into my classroom at the Commercial School in Addis Ababa with a big grin and a handshake and said, “Hi, I’m Sarge Shriver.” I remember responding with something stupid, like, “No, kidding!”
But this other guy was different. First, he was young. He was our age. He had a camera. And he had a real professional job. He was travelling all over the world for the Peace Corps. He was the official Peace Corps photographer….Wow! But I want you to know, we treated him like, well, you know how we treated him. He hung around for weeks in Addis Ababa, eating our food, drinking our beer, telling great stories. And then he went all over the Empire, just another guy taking photographs of PCVs doing what we all were doing, teaching, hanging out, being PCVs in town and villages in the middle of nowhere. He was a nice guy. We liked him. He even bought the beer. Hey, he was getting a real salary. A few of the girls, I know, developed crushes. He was good looking in that quiet, sullen James Dean sort of way.
Well, after all of these years, he is still around. And he is still taking photographs. Besides the photos he took of us PCVs around the world in 1961-63, he took every famous people photos from the ’60s and ’70s and published them in magazines like Life and Look, and Newsweek and Times. You name it. You’ll find his credit under a photo of Dylan and Joan Baez and JFK and Sarge Shriver. You name the famous person (or not so famous) from the 1960s and 1970s, and Rowland has a photo.
Well, now Chris Szwedo has made a movie of Rowland Scherman’s life and you are in with Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and JFK and Bobby, and, of course, Shriver, if you were part of the Peace Corps in the early 60s, or if you attended the 50th reunion in Washington, D.C., last September. Chris Szwedo was in D.C. shooting film all that weekend. He has some great images of the march back from Arlington Cemetary.
The movie title is “Eye on the Sixties: The Iconic Photography of Rowland Scherman” though, I understand Bill Moyers said it should be called, “The Kid With The Camera” for that is how Rowland got his job at the Peace Corps in the spring of 1961.
Here is the back story, as Chris Szwedo explains it:
“In 1961, Rowland Scherman followed the inspiring words of President Kennedy and boarded the train from New York to Washington, D.C. to offer his services as a “photographer” for the upstart “Peace Corps”, an idealistic and seemingly radical idea. Despite no apparent Peace Corps need for photographers, Scherman hung out in the lobby for three days charming the staff and hoping for an opportunity. Finally a stroke of luck arrived–he was asked to photograph Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver at work with a visiting dignitary. All it took was that one moment to shine. Within days Scherman was asked to be the first “official photographer” for the Peace Corps– a post he held from 1961-1962. His time with the Peace Corps provided wonderful opportunities to travel the world, and to gain a portfolio.These scenes offer a great glimpse into not only the beginnings of his photography career, but also into the very beginnings of a respected national government agency. Source of Photographs: National Archives and Records Administration/College Park, MD. Events in Washington filmed at the 50th Anniversary of The Peace Corps week of celebration. Special Thanks to Peace Corps Volunteers John Coyne and Kenneth Hill. Additional Thanks to Joan Thornell. Original Music and Videography: Chris Szwedo This scene is one of many in “EYE ON THE SIXTIES: The Iconic Photography of Rowland Scherman” copyright Chris Szwedo, LLC.”
What Chris is trying to do is raise money, via kickstarter to show the film. You can help. But first look at these two excepts from the fillm. And look for yourself. I spotted my old roommates in Ethiopia, Ernie Fox and Sam Fisk, and Patty and John Garamendi, Harris Wofford, Aaron Williams, Ken Hill, several staffers from the NPCA, Bill Moyers, and even myself. My God, it must be a great film!
Here are two links to the film:http://vimeo.com/52034042
You are going to love it!
I know I can generate a lot of ‘comments’ and ‘Com’on Coyne!’ complaints by picking out Volunteers who really did an amazing job overseas. Yes, we all did amazing jobs! However, there are many, many PCVs who away from their APCDs, or any host country attention, did wondrous working as teachers, nurses, community development workers in the barrios of Latin America, or digging fish ponds in Africa. Whatever! We all knew one or two Super Vols in our programs. Some of us, perhaps, were Super Vols.
Still, on the national level, over the 50 plus years of the agency, there are several moments when the world as a whole paused and for a moment at least nodded in agreement and thought: ‘yes, this is what the Peace Corps is all about.’
One such moment occurred early on in Nigeria at the University of Ibadan when Trainee Maragery Michelmore dropped a postcard and the PCVs came under the harsh reality of cross-culture misunderstanding. The Peace Corps then was on the verge of tumbling apart before it started, but PCVs and Staff rallied around Maragery in this moment of crisis.
Nevertheless, for me..for the Greatest Volunteers, I’ll give the nod to the PCVs of the Dominican Republic, circa 1965. They were the greatest PCVs to serve, in my opinion.
Why so, you might ask.
Well, when a revolt began in the DR in the spring of 1968, President Johnson sent in 500 Marines “to protect American lives” and the American forces quickly increased to 22,000 [are we talking surge here?] The Volunteers opposed the occupation, the deception, and the Marines. Clearly it was not the danger to American lives in the DR that worried Johnson, as Harris Wofford would write in his book Of Kennedys & Kings, it was fear of a radical regime change that kept U.S. troops there. And it was the first such intervention in Latin America since the ill-fated U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in 1925.
On Saturday morning when the uprising began there were 108 Peace Corps Volunteers in the DR; thirty-four of them were in Santo Domingo. The PCVs had been told that in the event of any civil disorder, they were to remain with their friends in the barrios, where they could await instructions from the staff. But as the fighting and bloodshed swept across the capital the Volunteers were caught up in it.
Elements of the armed forces and civilian population led a rebellion with the aim of restoring Bosch and restoring constitutional government. Amid stories of mounting casualties and destruction as the fighting progressed in Santo Domingo, there were sketchy reports of PCVs working in hospitals, driving ambulances, and distributing food and apparent safe conduct though partisan lines. One news story reported that a soldier had asked a Volunteer nurse why she was assisting him when he would only return to the battle and shoot at U.S. Marines. A reporter for the New York Herald Tribune wrote, “This is a war in which the U.S. War Corps is at odd with the U.S. Peace Corps.” Other U.S. newspapers expressed editorial concern over the ambiguous role played by the Peace Corps.
Commended by some, censured by others, the Volunteers during the rebellion were doing essentially what they had been doing since their arrival; helping where help was needed. Before the outbreak of fighting, the Volunteers had been advised to avoid political partisanship, and this was still the operative rule for their behavior during the civil strife. And injured man was an injured man, and food went to those who were hungry.
One PCV wrote later, “I had little sense of real personal danger as I felt completely safe surrounded by people I had grown to trust completely. But the problem was that nobody was able to predict with accuracy what might happen from one hour to the next, and, hence, the Peace Corps staff felt that I would be wiser if I moved to a nearby hospital where I would be a bit safer.
“I arrived at the hospital and already there working were Peace Corps nurses, working 16-18 hours a day, assisting with the waves of wounded and generally supervising all phases of the hospital operations. There was no electricity, short supply of water, few medicines, standard of sanitation were understandably low, and blood literally covering the floors. Luckily, during the first day, there was so much to do there was little time to collect our thoughts.”
Later the PCVs in the Capital were moved to a central location, within a established security zone. Then the next phase in Peace Corps activities began. There were three areas in the city: the U.S. security zone, the military junta section, and the Constitutionalist-controlled sector.
Nurses were continuing to work in hospitals, but the other PCVs went to help the Red Cross transport medicines and food. One PCV remembered, “During these few weeks of driving through all parts of Santo Domingo there was a definite degree of danger. I guess all of us were scared. The problem was not so much that we would be attacked personality, but rather that we might be in an area where there happened to be firing.
“In such an environment within which there was a definite degree of anti-American feeling, the Peace Corps received practically none. It was as though the Peace Corps was entity separate from everything else what was concerned with the conflict-as, in fact, it was.”
Later in June, after an uneasy truce, with no loss of life to the PCVs, Frank Mankiewicz, then the Regional Manager of Latin America, would tell a staff meeting, “Many of them (the Volunteers) were terribly scared; I think to this day some of them are not quite sure of what they did or why they did it…But somewhere along the line they had caught up something that all of us feel, I think, from time to time–about what it meant to be an American in that situation….and there really is not enough to say about the way they came through and what it meant to the United States and to the Dominicans too.
“People talk every once in a while about acting in the highest Peace Corps tradition. I’m not sure that in four years we’ve established very many traditions–either high or low. But the staff and the Volunteers in the Dominican Republic certainly set a standard this past month that can serve as a tradition until a better one comes along.”
Let’s look at how individual PCVs in the field were as important as early Peace Corps Staff in keeping the agency, alive, well, and on its own. We have to remember that regardless of the administrations who are in power, it is Peace Corps Volunteers who are the heart and soul, and the only reason for the agency.
Back then the PCVs of the DR were overwhelmingly against the 1963 right-wing military coup that overthrew Juan Bosch’s newly elected, leftist government (which had invited the Peace Corps to the country). These Volunteers lived and worked among the poor, they were working to remove the stain of the US’s long standing support for Rafael Trujillo, and when the civil war broke out in ‘65 the Volunteers sympathized with the “legitimatist” rebels.
Guess what? With fighting all around them, the PCVs wouldn’t leave. No, way. Tad Szulc of The New York Times would write, “These brave young Americans had refused to be evacuated from war-torn Santo Domingo and had gone on working in the hospitals and elsewhere despite the fight and the mounting resentment in the rebel zone against the United States intervention…”
Later [after the U.S. government realized how loved the PCVs were by the people] the State Department proposed that Volunteers be assigned to work with the U.S. Special Forces, the Green Berets, and when the scheme was put to the Peace Corps, the answer from Frank Mankiewicz, in a message personally approved by Sarge Shriver: “Not only no, but hell no!”
The PCVs kept at their jobs and in the midst of the fighting. When Volunteers had to move from one place to anther, signs were held up by the rebels to stop shooting, that the American Peace Corps were walking by, and Volunteers moved safely in the slums where they were living their lives working with the people.
A few weeks into the fighting, the respected chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico, Jaime Benitez, who was then serving as an adviser to McGeorge Bundy, and who was in the Dominican Republic seeking a negotiated settlement, suggested that the DR would be better off if the respective numbers of PCVs and Marines on the island were reversed. It never happened, of course.
And that thinking by our government is, of course, why we invaded Iraq. At the end the Marines left the DR and the Volunteers stayed and kept working.
The success and secret of the Peace Corps has always been the work of the individual PCV who couldn’t care less about Washington, or for that matter, the APCD. [Those PCVs don't mind if the APCD is buying the beer.]
Yes, we have had many losers PCVs among us, God’s knows! But for the most part, and for most Volunteers, the work has been done, the effort made, and those first friendships with the HCNs continue for many of us today. Throughout all these years, we had done what Kennedy asked us to do over five decades ago, we have tried to make a difference, and we didn’t ask for honor or praise or even money, and we are not going to let a bunch of political hacks in D.C. ruin our Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps Volunteers of the Dominican Republic proved that in 1965 when they stood up to the Marines, when they stood up to LBJ, and when they told the world they won’t leave their jobs, they won’t leave the DR. No, they won’t leave. Not only no, but hell no!
While many, many PCVs involved in Community Development felt they were failure, and some were, still projects on the whole were working. “The Community Development Program in Peru is healthy,” wrote Herb Wegner in a 1963 Peace Corps Evaluation Report on Peru, “The question in Peru is not so much of going from bad to good—but from good to better.”
The large program in Colombia was also basically sound. By January 1964, over six hundred PCVS were working various projects and despite the site, it was successful. Meridan Bennett in his Evaluation Report summed up, “the Peace Corps’ ability to work in Community Development has been proven in Colombia.”
And both of these early Evaluators in Charlie Peters office were hard edged reporters.
The reason for the ’success’ was because most of the projects in-country were ‘undefined.’ PCVs were free to tackle everything, and they did! Volunteers in Latin America went into literacy-teaching, arts and crafts classes, agricultural extension, and ante-and post-natal care.
Jack Vaughn, who knew and understood Latin America, and later would become the second director of the Peace Corps, wrote about PCVs assigned to the high plains near Lake Titicaca, in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia, saying that he had approached with trepidation the region because of the ‘hostile attitude of the Indians there. “They were all armed, they seemed resentful, didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t change.’
After visiting five villages where the PCVs had been for three years he wrote: “They had all built a new school, the first school in a thousand years. They all had a clinic for child deliveries, the first clinic in a thousand years. They all had potable water piped in and they had done it themselves. They had made more physical progress in a couple of years than they had made in the previous thousand. But more important was the attitude, the openness, the willingness to look you in the eye and tell you about who they were and what they had done, and the pride and self-respect of citizenship.”
Vaughn concluded that much of this change was due to the Peace Corps. In Kirby Jones article The Peace Corps Volunteers in the Field: Community Development in the May 1966 Annals, Vaughn is quoted: “What the Spaniards and Incas and the Western miners and the diplomats and the AID people couldn’t do in a thousand years the Peace Corps had helped to do in about three years. This is real revolution.”
End of Part Five. Next, With a Little Help From Our Friends!
John Coyne Babbles is a collection of comments, opinions, musings, and outrages from this RPCV who served with the first group (1962-64) in Ethiopia.