Tamar Schiffman Lechter, the President of the RPCV/Washington, D.C. group, sent an email around at the end of 2010 asking for funding to help pay for a memorial service for fallen PCVs at the Arlington Cemetery Amphitheater. Included in this service is a  ’silent vigil’ to JFK’s grave site, and a march back across Memorial Bridge to the Mall. All of this is to take place on Sunday morning, September 25, 2011.

Such a memorial service has been done before when RPCVs gathered in D.C., going back to 1965 and the first ‘reunion’ of Peace Corps Volunteers. It is a wonderful gesture and something we all fully support.

The Washington, D.C. RPCVs have been ‘tasked’ with organizing this ceremony by the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) as the NPCA doesn’t have the manpower or money to plan or pay for it. The Peace Corps agency is not helping out, as far as I have been told. So, Tamar Schiffman Lechter is e-mailing and asking for $$$. God love her! Thank you, Tamar, and thanks to the RPCVs in D.C. for doing all this work.

There is only one problem that might–in my opinion–turn the memorial ceremony into a massive pile up on the bridge to Washington. Here’s what I mean.

Tamar wrote in her December 2010 email:

On September 25, 2011, RPCV/W will host a 90 minute program at Memorial Amphitheater followed by a silent procession to Kennedy’s grave, paying tribute to his vision. We will then march together in a parade of flags, across the Arlington Memorial Bridge. (back into D.C.)

Having attended these ’services’ at Arlington going back to 1965 I am firmly convinced the DC group is doing this ‘march thing’ assbackwards.  

At the giant 25th Reunion about six thousand RPCVs gathered on the Mall. They carried flags and walked over Memorial Bridge, from the Mall to Arlington Cemetery, following Shriver, Ruppe and dozens of others dignitaries. They marchers stopped briefly at Kennedy’s grave site and laid a wreath, and then when onto the Amphitheater for the service that Bill Moyers directed. It was a warm September morning, as I recall, and the service lasted over an hour, with all of us sitting out in the sun. Then everyone headed back to the Mall on foot, by subway, and in cars. Everyone wanted to get out of the early heat of Washington, D.C.

I’m told by several of the people directly involved in the planning for 2011 that while they have asked President Obama to appear they think (rightly) he will send someone to speak for him at Arlington. The planners have sketched out a general program (nothing too exciting, I might add, at the 25th). The planners were very clear that after this 90-minutes program, they will organize the RPCVs in a silent procession to Kennedy’s grave.

Hello?

Have they no experience with RPCVs? After 90-minutes of  sitting in the sun, a crowd of say 10,000 RPCVs, plus family, plus kids! none of them are going silently into the good day! Also, they won’t be easily organized around host country flags in an area the size of the Peace Corps building?

If I were them, I’d re-think this arrangement.

These Organizers from what I know have never been to previous events it appears. They are also using as their ‘touchstone’ the last two reunions, where the march went backwards toward the Mall, and where there was a smaller gathering. Fair enough.  They are not, as far as I can see, considering the large number of RPCVs planning to come to the 50th Anniversary in September. 

I might be way wrong on this one, but all of us old farts remember what it was like that Sunday morning twenty-five years ago. After sitting out for 90-minutres, very few RPCVs will be in the mood to be ‘organized’ or to ‘march.’

I would suggest that Tamar Schiffman Lechter and her march planners speak with Roger Landrum and the other RPCVs from D.C. who ran that reunion on the Mall under the big tent twenty-five years ago. It won’t hurt to hear what they think.

I do want to  compliment these new, young RPCVs for stepping up and taking on this important ceremony of remembering the PCVs who died overseas in service to the Peace Corps. Thank you.