Credit must be given to those Volunteers who joined the Peace Corps in the early Sixties. They were all kids who had come of age in the final years of the Fifties, schooled in novels like Sloan Wilson, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, published in 1955, and the non-fiction The Organization Man, written by William H. Whyte and published in 1956. These books were underscored by Ayn Rand’s philosophy as articulated in her novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Every man, philosophized Rand, was an end in himself. He must work for rational self-interest, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.
None of us knew in the winter of 1961 if joining the Peace Corps would mark us for life, like being a member of the Communist Party, or worse, a member of the Republican Party (just kidding!).
The real heroes were the “Originals,” those PCVS who joined in 1961. Of that inaugural class of 864, 300 gathered at the 25th Anniversary Conference in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1986 to attend a Congressional Reception and hear Senator Kennedy tell them, “You have reminded us anew-as you did with your example twenty-five years ago-of what is best in ourselves and what is best about our country. The idea of the Peace Corps – and the spirit of service that it inspired-captured the imagination of the American people. The passing of time has not dimmed the response or diminished the achievements of the Peace Corps and the qualities that made it so special and so important to the people of the United States.”
Then with his voice cracking with emotion, he summed up, “You have kept President Kennedy’s dream alive. I only wish he was here today to share the pride of your achievement.”