Jack Hood Vaughn, the second director of the Peace Corps (March 1, 1966 to April 30, 1969), and the first Republican Director, was laid to his final rest at the National Cemetery at Arlington. It was his desire to be buried at Arlington. I happened on Thursday December 19, 2013.
Jack Vaughn died on October 29, 2012, at the age of 92.
Like President Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Warren Wiggins, and many of the visionaries who conceived of the Peace Corps, Jack was a combat veteran of WW II, serving in the Marine Corps. He had received citations for valor, was wounded three times, and understood why: “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” With the escalating war in Vietnam during his directorship, he had interceded again and again to keep PCVs free of that dismal, needless war. When the issue of war and foreign policy came up, Jack always maintained that, “If for no other reason, waging peace is a lot cheaper than waging war!”
John Turnbull (Ghana 1963-64) wrote me about Vaughn’s final resting place and added, “we could use more courageous ‘big thinkers’ like Jack Vaughn.”
Jack was the first Director of the Latin American Regional Office. He joined the Peace Corps staff in 1961 because, as he said, “the Peace Corps idea had a great appeal to me. And the people I knew who were putting this idea into effect appealed to me even more.”
Jack’s early claim to fame was as a featherweight boxer who fought at 165 pounds and called himself Johnny Hood. He had 165 fights in an amateur career that took him all over the U.S. in pursuit of expenses and eating money. He was the featherweight champ of Michigan at one point, and on other times he had to fight three bouts in one night. Born in Columbus, Montana, where the Yellowstone river pours out of the Rocky Mountains, Johnny Hood felt an early attraction toward Mexico.
“I was bumming round Mexico one summer,” he told us in Addis Ababa when visiting the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, “and I ran out of money. I decided I would take my boxing and turn pro, but I didn’t know enough Spanish at the time to tell whether the agent said I would get 60 pesos for four rounds or four pesos for 60 rounds. You can guess which figure was correct.” Before he was through, he had 26 professional fights in Mexico.
Several times over the years, he also wrote me about his unpublished memoir, Kill the Gringo. The title comes from his experiences in Mexico. As he said, “My first fight was down in Juarez. I was in the first of a four-round preliminary match. My second (assistant) was a high school kid from El Paso. The crowd began to shout, ‘Mata al gringo!'”
“I asked my second what they were saying. He said, ‘I think they’re saying, Welcome to Juarez.’ A week later I found out what the crowd really was shouting!”
He has his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, where he studied Latin American Affairs, and where he was also the boxing coach to pay his tuition. In 1943, he joined the Marines as a private, saw combat in the Pacific with invasion forces on Eniwetok, Guam and Okinawa. He was decorated and discharged as a Captain in 1946.
He returned to Michigan for a master’s degree in Latin American studies, and then to teach Spanish and French. Then he turned to living in Latin American, working for the US Information Agency in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Panama. Later he would go to Africa: Senegal, Mali and Mauritania, all before joining the Peace Corps in ’61.
My favorite story about Jack Vaughn was when he was being appointed a U.S. Ambassador by LBJ, he was instructed by the White House that before his appointment was announced, he’d have to shave off his mustache. Jack told the White House staff to ‘shove it’ and keep their appointment; he wasn’t shaving off his mustache. Johnny Hood, the featherweight from Montana, was appointed Ambassador to Panama, and later to be the Ambassador to Colombia.