Cold Hand of History, The Peace Corps Part 6

In Late October,1962, Sargent Shriver visited Ethiopia. He was determined to meet all 278 Volunteers recalled Donovan McClure, who accompanied Shriver from Washington. “He raced around in a jeep from sun-up to sunset shattering the poise of countless Volunteers by suddenly appearing in their classroom or at the doors of their houses, hand extended, “Hi! I’m Sarge Shriver. Greatameecha…President Kennedy is behind you all the way.” As Gary May reports.

I was teaching English at the Commercial School when Shriver burst into my classroom, followed by Wofford and several Ethiopian officials from the Ministry of Education and our Headmaster.

He came across the front of the classroom right at me, hand outstretched, just that, “Hi! I’m Sarge Shriver. Greatameecha.”

I remember blurting out, “No kidding.”

My tenth grade class was so stunned they didn’t jump to their feet as all Ethiopia students would do when an adult opened the classroom door.

I managed on their behalf to ask a few simple questions of Sarge, i.e., ‘would the Peace Corps continue in Ethiopia” that sort of boilerplate material, and then he was gone with his entourage to the next Peace Corps classroom.

I explained slowly to the class who he was and why he had come and the first question asked by one of the students was, “If his brother-in-law is the president of the United States, why he is still a Sargent?”

No dummies, my students.

Wofford & Shriver on the American Embassy lawn

Wofford & Shriver on the American Embassy lawn

“He was completely honest,” Martha Stonequist later wrote home after meeting Shriver, “and admitted that we had ‘very poor training’ at Georgetown, also that things here in Ethiopia were not planned nearly as well as they might have been-said it was to our credit that we had thus far done so well.” While some Volunteers thought Shriver “hopelessly positive” and “disgustingly upbeat,” (from an interview May had with Bergthold) Stonequist found him impressive. “He’s completely dedicated, and his whole life is the Peace Corps. His enthusiasm, his humor, his dedication, his hopes-all are contagious…He was most forthright and helped morale considerably.”

End of Part 6

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  • Sarge came and had lunch at the house of the eight volunteers in Debre Markos. He was great, talking about America’s place in the world, and we conveyed to him how the Peace Corps staff had been awfully slow in getting us ink for our Gestetner machine.

    • I was with Dick in Debra Markos when Shriver came to visit us in the classrooms. I was teaching 9th grade history if my memory recalls correctly. I first saw Wofford’s face at the open window in the classroom. I opened the door and there were four people: Wofford, the pilot of the small plane, a news reporter from the SF chronicle, and Shriver.

      This occured during the Cuban Missle crisis, and told the class who Shriver was and that he was related to the Kennedy’s through marriage. The class perked up since i’m not the most excitng spearker. Thediscussion turned to the Cuban issue and he did a masterful job of explaining what was going on.

      We later went back to the house and had beer for awhile.

      He was fabulous I thought: Impressive speaker, wordly and fun to talk with.

      I remember this vividly.

      At the time Debra Markos was the most remote site Peace Corps had. I’ve looked at a web page using Debra Markos as the point of contact and it is amazing how it has changed. I’d like to go back to Ethiopia, but I’m a severe diabetic now and i’m frightened to do so.

      Thanks for the chance to drop a line to this system.

      my email address is: jon.ebeling@gmail.com

      drop me a line and let me know how things are going.

      jon

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