Sarge Recalls His First PC/H Staff

I do not think it is altogether fair to say that I handed Sarge a lemon from which he made lemonade, but I do think that he was handed and you (The Peace Corps staff) were handed one of the most sensitive and difficult assignments which any administrative group in Washington has been given almost in this century.” –President Kennedy in a speech to the Peace Corps staff

It was apparent to Shriver from the very beginning that he needed talented people who had wide experience in government work. The question was–how would he find them! He followed the principle that one good man would bring another. So Warren Wiggins got him Jack Young from NASA, a demon of energy and creativity who organized our management services.

Presidential Counsel Ted Sorensen recommended Joe Kauffman. The Dean of the Yale Law School, Eugene Rostow, recommended Bill Delano. The “talent search” turned up Frank Williams and Dick Graham. Lloyd Wright was highly recommended by Bill Moyers.

Jack Young got the Peace Corps Bill Kelly, who was the man at NASA in charge of efficiently moving such things as Saturn boosters from Huntsville, Alabama to Cape Canaveral. Sarge decided he would be just the man to solve the problems of how best to transport Peace Corps Volunteers from the United States to the ends of the earth.

Shriver then went to Dr. Arthur Adams, president of the American Council on Education and told him he needed a top-flight man to run training. He sent the agency to Larry Dennis. Shriver didn’t know how Dennis felt about the Peace Corps, but it turned out Dennis received the Peace Corps’ telegram in Chicago, where he had gone to address the American Council on Higher Education–in support of the Peace Corps. Dennis came to work the following week.

Everyone agreed that the process of selecting Volunteers would be a critical problem–perhaps the most crucial of all. But the big question was who would be the best man to head up a selection division. Shriver asked Dr. John Darley, executive director of the American Psychological Association, to give recommendations. He suggested one man, Nick Hobbs. Sarge asked Dr. Darley to call Nick and sound him out. “How much time do I have to decide?” Nick asked. “Twenty minutes,” Dr. Darley replied. Twenty minutes later, Nick was working for the Peace Corps.

In one of the major, early decisions in Peace Corps history, Shriver decided to try to get the U.S. Public Health Service to assume responsibility for the health of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world. The Surgeon General agreed to do so. More than that, he designated a physician-administrator to the Peace Corps staff as Medical Director, Dr. Leo Gehrig.

In those hectic, early days of the organization, the Peace Corps was often forced to make some drastic demands on people.

Ed Bayley in Wisconsin got a telegram from the Peace Corps late at night asking for his help. He arrived in Washington the next day–and never went back. After setting up our Information Division, Bayley went on to become information chief for AID.

Tom Matthews was away from home, on a skiing trip to Alta, Utah, when a telegram reached him there. He arrived in Washington still wearing his ski boots. He became Bayley’s deputy, his replacement, and next Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Affairs.

Gordon Boyce, who went on to become president of the Experience in International Living, got a telegram too. He arrived the very next afternoon, took an immediate leave of absence from his job, and stayed for seven months as director of the Division of Private Organizations.

The Peace Corps had other problems. When Lee St. Lawrence paid his first visit to the Peace Corps office, he took one long look at the surrounding confusion, offered the unsolicited opinion that “this place is all fouled up,” then wanted to know which desk he could use.

Contacting the American labor movement for recommendations, knowing that the labor movement would play a role in the Peace Corps, Shriver was told about Jules Pagano, who was recommended by Joseph Bierne, president of the Communications Workers of America.

Shriver would met Jack Vaughn during a tour of Africa and was impressed by him. “He was an experienced Latin American expert not too happy in his African assignment, and when we needed a man to head up our South American program, I immediately thought of him.” Vaughn, as we know, would go onto become the second director of the Peace Corps.

To Shriver’s way of thinking, “one of the best tests of the soundness and validity of the ‘Peace Corps idea’ was the high quality of the people who immediately came forward and expressed a desire to be a part of it–to organize it, to serve it, and to serve in it.”

And the men and women came: Charlie Nelson, Willie Warner, Sally Bowles, Charlie Peters, John Corcoran, Nan McEvoy, Paul Conklin, and John Alexander. “They were proof that we had something fresh and challenging and worthwhile.”

And they continued to come. Add to that list in those first years were Paul Geren, Grant Venn, Jane Campbell, Sam Babbitt, Doug Kiker, Rogers Finch, Betty Harris, and Alice Gilbert. They all testified to the immense attraction of the Peace Corps idea.

“It is this capacity,” summed up Sarge, “to attract, to challenge and to excite such people that has made the Peace Corps what it is today.”

 

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