Over the next year, in no particular order, I will post short essays by RPCVs that were presented at the reading of the Journals of Peace that took place from mid-day on the 21st of November, 1988 and continued through the night to mid-day on the 22nd in the Capital Rotunda in Washington, DC. The event concluded with a memorial Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral celebrating the life of President John F. Kennedy and his Peace Corps, and marked the 25th anniversary of the death of President Kennedy.
As the readings were delivered during the bright day the Rotunda was busy with passing tourists, congressional staffers, Congressmen and women, Senators, and RPCVs. Radio and t.v. stations, and some newspaper reporters, stayed with us all day and all night as time shifted from light to dark, and the Rotunda empted of strangers. The RPCVs continued to read, often to only a few friends, and the handful of staff that Tim Carroll, president of the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, had assembled to manage the event. Capital police on their rounds of Congress paused to listen as one person after another stepped up to the podium, many wearing the dress of their host county, and announced themselves. The RPCVs would recall Kennedy, say what he had meant to them, or what they had done in the Peace Corps.
A few RPCVs cried reading their stories, telling of a death overseas, a lover lost, a dream that had died in Africa. Their personal sorrow was caught and shared by the handful who stood quietly in the vast empty chamber. Still their voices and tears were carried through the echoing halls. In many ways, it didn’t matter who was there to hear. These RPCVs, all these RPCVs, were making their peace with their past, had put down on paper for one last time what the Peace Corps had meant to them, and they were saying it out loud in the Capital of the United States. They were saying it to the ghost of John F. Kennedy, telling him how his creation had changed their lives. For it was in this same space where JFK had had his last moments in the sun, where he had laid in rest for a final time. All of us were aware of this connection that linked us to Kennedy. And there it was, twenty-five years after his death, and it was our time to have our say, some with awkward words, silly stories, some with song and dance, others with pure eloquence. We were all making our connection to the life and time of John F. Kennedy. We were his Peace Corps. And we wanted the whole world to know.