Bill Josephson reviews KILL THE GRINGO by Jack Hood Vaughn
Kill the Gringo: The Life of Jack Hood Vaughn
Jack Hood Vaughn with Jane Constantineau
Rare Bird Books
$17.95 (paperback), $11.03 (Kindle)
Reviewed by Bill Josephson (Peace Corps HQ 1961-66)
WRITTEN BY JACK in the first person, Kill the Gringo has 12 chapters and an afterword by his daughter, Jane Constantineau, who has a “with” Jack credit. With one exception, KTG is organized around Jack’s life and work. The exception is chapter 1, 1966–19 69, which covers Jack’s service as the second director of the Peace Corps. That service is also covered in chapter 8.
I was a counsel in the Peace Corps from 1961 to 1966. I first met Jack when I was Deputy General Counsel, traveling in 1961 with Sargent Shriver and the head of the Peace Corps’s Africa programs, George E. Carter, Jr., to Guinée to meet the head of Guinée, Sékou Touré (name misspelled in KTG when it first appears). We overnighted in Dakar and spent the evening with Jack who was the ICA/AID Mission director, as he had also been in Conakry.
Warren Wiggins, the Peace Corps Associate Director for Program, later Deputy Director had served with Jack in Bolivia and ICA/W. He had long wanted Jack to head the Peace Corps’s Latin American programs.
Jack reports (page 16) that on the day of his swearing-in as Peace Corps director in 1966 and later, President Johnson asked him about sending Volunteers to Vietnam. Jack apparently was unaware that this subject had been high-level considered for at least a year and continued to be, and that some former Volunteers were working in Vietnam for AID and its contractors.
Page 18 contains an extraordinary non-sequitur:
If it were true that young men entered the Peace Corps to avoid the draft, applications would have soared in 1967 and ’68. In fact, the number of volunteers and volunteers-in-training peaked at 15,551 in September 1966 and never reached that level again.
In fact, applications to serve in the Peace Corps during Jack’s tenure in 1966, 1967 and 1968 were 42,246, the second highest ever, 35,229 and 30,450, respectively. If the numbers enrolled as Volunteers declined from the nearly 16,000 peak, as they did during Jack’s tenure, the explanation is not lack of applications. Even 30,000 applications would support enrolling 8,000 to maintain the nearly 16,000 total.
Jack describes an anti-Vietnam war Volunteer protestor as Charles Murray (20), perhaps confusing him with the conservative writer, also an RPCV: “I felt he had made anti-war activism his profession…. We asked him back to Washington, and I told him his tour was over.” Actually, the Volunteer was Stephen Bruce Murray, and as Jack admits, he successfully sued the Peace Corp for wrongful discharge and Selected Service for wrongful reclassification to I-A from II-A
I was unaware of the case until Jack mentioned it (my wonderful research librarian, Jill Gray, found it.), even though coincidentally I knew Murray’s lawyers, the late Marvin Karpatkin, Mel Wulf and Mike Pollet, the latter ex-Fried Frank, all American Civil Liberties Union members. The 20-page federal court opinion in Stephen Bruce Murray v. Joseph Blatchford, et al., 307 F. Supp. 1038 (D.R.I 1969), is scathing about the Peace Corps Regional Director, Paul Bell. He never told Murray of his rights, “the fact of his possible termination was actively concealed from him. Bell never showed Murray his proposed termination statement.” Id. at 1052. In PC/W, Murray “was not permitted the opportunity to prepare his own statement.” Id. The court’s careful statement of the facts, id. at 1046-48, is Peace Corps damning, with no evidence that Murray did anything but sign letters to newspapers, hardly a professional antiwar activist, as Jack put it. The court found:
The record stands in total testament to the distinguished, diplomatic, gentle and wholly professional quality of Murray’s service to the people of Concepcion — he was to them the very antithesis of the “ugly American.”
Id. at 1044.
The United States did not appeal.
I have a personal memory of stopping, as General Counsel, the railroading of a Volunteer out of Brazil, probably during Jack’s tenure as Latin America director.
Brent Ashabranner, a very able person, was the first Nigeria director, acting, but Samuel Proctor did not serve for six years (24). Sam was appointed at the end of 1961 and arrived in Nigeria in early ’62. He had to go back to, I think, Rutgers, in 1963. Bill Saltonstall, a Republican, who had headed Phillips Exeter, was the next Peace Corps director in Nigeria.
Shriver “had shunned right-wing dictatorships” (p. 30), but how would Jack explain Volunteers in Bolivia, Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan, for but four examples? The military took over Brazil in 1964, and the Volunteers stayed.
Chapter 5 covers 1961–64, the years when Jack was Peace Corps/Latin America director. On page 142, Jack takes credit for hiring Darwin Bell. In fact, Dar was Warren Wiggins’s best friend, and recruited by him from AID.
Sarge did not hire Bill Moyers as his initial deputy director (p. 143). Bill came to the Peace Corps in early 1961 as head of recruitment and the essential Congressional liaison. Paul Geren was the first Peace Corps deputy director. Jack did not head Latin America until late 1961 early 1962.
Ralph Dungan, the White House staffer, who, in April 1961, asserted on behalf of President Kennedy, that the Peace Corps should be part of AID, was not a “profane and belligerent man” (p. 47). I dealt with Ralph directly on those issues and others. Jack did not, could not, have.
Nor did the Vice President prevail on that issue, “For reasons nobody could fathom.” (p.148). The story of the Kennedy-Johnson evening meeting has been told and written about so many times that Jack could not have been unaware.
During my Peace Corps tenure, 1961-66, Pakistan and Guinée did not terminate their Peace Corps programs (p. 148).
I never knew that Jack advocated that training be shifted from the United States to overseas (p. 150).
Africa training in Puerto Rico did not last only five days (p. 151).
The film John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums was produced by the United States Information Service, but George Stevens, Jr. should get a major credit as producer, in addition to Bruce Herschensohn (p. 167). The John F. Kennedy Library showed that film for many years.
Jack leads his chapter 7 (p. 187), 1965–66, with a quote from his 1975 New York Post interview:
The greatest instrument of diplomacy is honesty. With Congressmen, you have to go through a band of dancing peacocks.
Jack, as he reports, had a lot of difficulties with senators and representatives. I never did, perhaps because with them (and with members of the press), I was, and am, always absolutely honest. Elected officials and the press have to make too many decisions too fast on the basis of too little information. They must always regard their sources as credible.
Jack asserts (p. 196-97) that he “disagreed strongly with the scale of our military presence” in the Dominican Republic in 1965. He bragged to me that he was President Johnson’s right hand in that intervention and had a special relationship with Colonel Wessin y Wessin, one of the coup’s leaders, whom he called “Smith y Wessin” after the pistol manufacturer.
Jack is right about the outstanding performance of the Peace Corps Volunteers in Santo Domingo (p. 200) but wrong about “Many . . . were nurses.” The nurses were fantastic, but there were only six, later joined by two from the countryside.
Jack’s assertion (p. 234) that Shriver had been unable to hire an effective director of administration is not true. Jack Young, the first, and Howard Greenberg, the longest serving, were outstanding. Morrie Kandle preceded Jack as the controller (p. 234).
Neither is it true that Sarge was averse to firing people, quite the contrary, nor that the Peace Corps had no operating procedures nor handbook (p. 234).
Small errors could have been avoided by some fact checking.
The average age of Volunteers “in 1960,” before Kennedy even took office, could not have been 24 (p. 15).
Perhaps Jack used a pillow as a shield, certainly not as a “lance” (p. 58).
The name of the Communist International is misspelled (p. 101).
Shriver was not personally “rich” at all (p. 136).
The name of Mary Ann Orlando, who recently died, Sarge’s indispensable personal assistant since the late 1940s, hardly a “secretary,” is misspelled. (p. 152).
The village the Nazi’s massacred after Heydrich was assassinated, Lidice, was in Czechoslovakia, not Hungary (p. 159).
Although I encountered Jack again during his brief service as head of Planned Parenthood (1975-77), I did not read KTG past 1969.
Joanne Roll, a Colombia Peace Corps Volunteer, emailed me about other errors, citing the e-book version of KTG:
E Book – Location 182. Peace Corps Volunteers lined the street to the embassy to silently protest Vietnam. This happened in 1968 during Vaughn’s tenure. The book says this happened in Costa Rica. It actually happened in El Salvador. Meisler –When the World Calls (p. 100).
E Book – 2081 Vaughn identifies “Accion Comunal, a group devoted to protecting endangered Indian Tribes”, in Colombia. In reality, Accion Comunal was a CARE initiated government program that encouraged rural communities to organize to address needs. CARE contracted with Peace Corps in Spring of 1961 to manage the Community Developement program in Colombia. For five years, the CD Volunteers were known as CARE/Peace Corps. Most areas had Colombian Accion Comunal counterparts who worked closely with PCVs.
E Book -3079 Vaughn was asked during a Congressional Hearings if Peace Corps was developing “rural counterparts” to take over when the Volunteer left. (see above). Vaughn says “no” because “it was hard to them down on the farm.” This is not an inaccuracy as much as it dismisses the very important question.
Joanne is also “shocked” by Jack’s “unexpected” hostility to Robert F. Kennedy in their encounters. Knowing something of both RFK and LBJ, I can understand their separate impatience with Jack. Jack affected an imperturbable, even disengaged, demeanor that LBJ and RFK, both impatient, dynamic, highly engaged persons, must have found somewhat frustrating.
Indeed, Mary Ann Orlando told me that when Sarge learned that Jack would be his successor, Sarge put his hands on his head and shook his head from side to side.
In late 1960, with a State Department colleague, Warren W. Wiggins, Bill co-authored “The Towering Task,” a paper that captured the imagination of Sargent Shriver and contributed directly to the design and scope of the Peace Corps. Josephson worked at the Peace Corps until 1966, holding positions as Special Assistant to the Director and then General Counsel. In 1972, Bill was a director of Sargent Shriver’s campaign for Vice President on the McGovern/Shriver ticket. He is a senior advisor to the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago.
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Thanks, Bill Josephson, for correcting the record. Jack had big shoes to fill — Frank Mankiewicz in Latin America, and Sarge as Peace Corps Director. Quite a stretch for a little man.
Being one of those early PCVs caught up with the Vietnam War, I had always assumed that then-Director Vaughn, the ex-Marine, had sold us volunteers down the river, so to speak, It was only years later Jack’s wife, Leftie, who had been a secretary at PC HQ (where she and Jack had met) told me that during that time a steady stream of very personal letters from Dir Vaughn to draft boards across the country, sought to shield serving volunteers in their duty stations abroad. The old Marine might have just stayed quiet, but he didn’t.
But I think my opinion of Jack Vaughn changed irreversably when founding staffer Andres “Andy” Hernandez, died. Andy was the founding director in the Dominican Republic, and in Guatemala, and had figured prominently in the decision to keep the serving DR volunteers at their posts during the coup d’etat (and writing a legend that the PC has never again matched). Whatever Jack did, certainly was determined largely by Andy’s keen insight. Whether the PC nurses serving in the DR project were “many” or just “some”, doesn’t matter to me.
When Andy died, as significant as he was to the founding of the PC, there was no official delegation from the PC Agency. Not even anybody from the Regional Office in Dallas. In the two memorial Masses said for Andy in New Mexico, it was retired Jack Vaughn and wife Leftie who cared enough to be there. And six admiring RPCVs who had known Andy. I was one of them. The PC was what Andy seemed to consider a highlight of his long career, and at the funeral, when the family saw us, Andy’s son came over and escorted us RPCVs to the front pew of the church. I think Jack, the ex-Marine with two or three Purple Heart medals, must have shared that priority in his own career.
So, perhaps we can “fact check” Jack’s book, and in future printings add a bunch of footnotes. And maybe add a new Preface, putting some larger things about Jack Vaughn into perspective. JAT
Thank you for that very moving account of the Hernandez funeral. In KTG, Vaughn does describe his efforts with Draft boards.
Bill Josephson purpose is to correct historical errors in the book. I am very grateful for his efforts. K TG is an autobiography by Jack Vaughn and he does write about his tenure with Peace Corps. The fact that he was Peace Corps Director gives added credibility to his account. Josephson is in an unique position to make sure that the account is accurate, which he has done with painstaking detail.
It should be noted that Vaughn died in 2012 before he completed his book. His daughter used his notes and manuscript to complete and publish the work. If Vaughn had had the opportunity to make the final edit, he might have been able to correct his recollections.
My observation about Vaughn’s animosity toward RFK was personal and maybe I should not have included it. However, I was shocked and saddened. I would have thought that Vaughn and RFK would have shared much the same values.
I was an “envelope stuffing” campaign volunteer when RFK ran for President. I was calling in a phone bank the night of the New Mexico primary, as well as the California one, in Albuquerque in 1968. That is where I learned RFK had been shot.
John Coyne was once kind enough to pass around a first edition of Peace Corps Chronology. Elder, wiser former volunteers caught some mistakes, as Mr. Josephson did. However, they did not publish them. Grateful for their comments, I pulled the first edition off Amazon and released a second edition with corrections.
Thanks, Joanne, There was another irony concerning Jack Vaughn and the Peace Corps. Perhaps more an irony for the US Marine Corps.
Like Pres Kennedy and many of the founders of the Peace Corps, Jack was a WW-2 veteran, and wounded as well. Jack’s final wish was to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, AND he wished for a simple ground burial, with a white cross. For whatever reason, the DoD wouldn’t consent to a ground burial (substituting a mausoleum spot instead).
The irony was that it was RPCVs, not Marines, who intervened on Jack’s behalf, with the assistance of New Mexico Senator Tom Udall. Regrettably the DoD was intractable and unsympathetic. The irony is in WHO cared enough for this old Marine from WW-2, and his final wish. Peace Corps Volunteers ! It still is one of those things officialdom needs to correct.
Andy Hernandez, also a wounded veteran of WW-2 (Defense of Bastogne), hadn’t any such wishes, and today in interred beside his wife, at the country cemetery south of Santa Rosa, in New Mexico. Un Nuevomexicano to the end. I continue to hope I can place a small bronze plaque there some day — from all of us RPCVs. JAT