What program was the first Peace Corps project?

 

If you ever run into any RPCV from Colombia One, the first thing he’ll say (they were all guys) before giving you their name is: “We were first.” Colombia One PCVs are obsessed with this fact and that they are not given their proper pecking order. Recently my friend Ron Schwarz (Colombia 1961-63), wrote this piece on why THEY were the first PCVs, not Ghana. I asked the Director of the Peace Corps to check on this obscure (but important) fact. She was nice enough to come back with this information and statement from the agency’s General Counsel Office and the  Office of Strategic Information, Research and Planning.

Start dates for the early programs of the Peace Corps were corroborated and/or updated based on detailed research and analysis conducted by our Office of Strategic Information, Research and Planning on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.

Ghana 1 was the first Peace Corps post with Volunteers on the ground (they began duty on August 30, 1961). The Colombia 1 and Tanganyika 1 programs were the first to start preparing Trainees for their assignments…both groups started training in the United States on June 25, 1961.  The Colombia 1 group began duty on September 8, 1961 and Tanganyika 1 began duty on September 30, 1961.

Based on the standard definition utilized by Peace Corps for these early programs, the first Peace Corps program to open was Ghana.

What follows below is Ron Schwarz’s detailed argument why the Peace Corps agency is wrong (aren’t they always?) and why he and all of Colombia One are right: They were the real first Peace Corps project. Thank you, Ron.

The Peace Corps at 50: Who are the First Volunteers?

Ronald A. Schwarz (Colombia 1961-63)

Ronald Schwarz's profile photo

As the Peace Corps prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the agency’s account of its early history is flawed. Its website proclaims that the first group of Peace Corps volunteers is Ghana in fact, the first Peace Corps volunteers were, and are, the members of a group known as Colombia I. This essay presents the evidence and asks the agency to modify its misleading statements, correct the historical record, and publically recognize Colombia I as the first group of volunteers.

The Report to the President on the Peace Corps

The day after his inauguration on January 20th, 1961, President Kennedy asked his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver to head a task force to assess the feasibility of a Peace Corps. One month later, Shriver delivered “The Report to the President on the Peace Corps,” and on March 1st, JFK signed Executive Order 10924 which established the Agency “on a temporary pilot basis.”

Shriver’s Report describes what the Peace Corps would do and how it would operate.  It states that a “volunteer” is a person who passed an initial selection process and entered into a training program. The section on “. . . the Terms of Service” notes that “From the training period throughout his term of service, the Peace Corps volunteer would be subject to immediate separation from the service and return home.”

The terms frequently used in connection with the separation process while the agency operated under Executive Order 10924 are “selected out” and “deselected.” They underscore the policy that trainees are “volunteers” who are tested and evaluated, and can be separated from service at any time.

Recruitment and Initial Selection

In the spring of 1961, thousands of men and women completed questionnaires and mailed them to Washington. The applicants were then invited to take entrance exams at centers across America. In April and May the President announced the first two Peace Corps projects – Road Surveying in Tanganyika and Community Development in Colombia. In mid-June, Peace Corps staff telephoned the men who qualified for the Colombia project to determine their availability. On June 15th the first wave of candidates – those who had verbally agreed to report for training – received a telegram: “Congratulations on successfully completing the initial requirements for the Peace Corps.” The telegram was followed by a letter signed by Sargent Shriver dated June 16, 1961. It begins: “Dear Peace Corps Volunteer.”

The volunteers selected for Colombia arrived at Rutgers on June 25th. Training officially began the following day, June 26th , at 8:00 AM EDT. The group destined for Tanganyika started in El Paso two hours later. In the afternoon of the first day Sargent Shriver addressed the Colombia volunteers in New Brunswick, N.J. Dozens of reporters, photographers and TV crews were present.

The next morning (June 27th) The New York Times, the Washington Post and countless local papers published articles and photographs of Sarge and the volunteers. The headline on the front page of The New York Times reads: “Peace Corpsmen Introduced to Tasks and Taskmaster.” It features a photograph of Shriver addressing a group of young men in New Brunswick, N.J. The article begins: “The first two contingents of Peace Corps volunteers assigned to overseas projects began intensive two month training courses today at Rutgers University here and at Texas Western College in El Paso.”

The Washington Post story about the first day at Rutgers event includes Shriver’s announcement of a new project for Ghana.  It notes that the “Ghana group will be the third Peace Corps unit.

President Kennedy Signs the Peace Corps Act

The legislation that established the Peace Corps on a permanent basis – the Peace Corps Act – was signed by President Kennedy on September 22, 1961. On the day JFK signed the Act, three groups of volunteers were in their country of service – Colombia, Ghana and St. Lucia.

The original Peace Corps Act includes a section on “Volunteer Training” – SEC. 8. (a). It states that all provisions of the Act apply to applicants during training prior to enrollment and that “the respective terms ‘volunteers’ and ‘volunteer leaders’ shall include such applicant during any such period of training.”

The Rest of the Story

On June 25, 1963 Colombia I volunteers completed two years of service. Months later they received certificates signed by Sargent Shriver. The certificate includes the name of the volunteer and commends him “for dedication to his country and service to the people of Colombia as a Peace Corps Volunteer from June 25, 1961 to June 26, 1963.”

In connection with the 25th Anniversary Celebration (September 18 – 21, 1986), Peace Corps headquarters published a booklet that lists, in chronological order, the early Volunteer Groups. Colombia I is the first, Tanganyika I is second and Ghana I is third. A footnote explains that Colombia is first because of the time zone difference between the East Coast and Texas (where the Tanganyika group trained).

In November 2010, Rutgers University hosted a two day ceremony and unveiled a bronze plaque that begins “Rutgers . . . was selected for the training of America’s first Peace Corps Volunteers, a group that served in the Republic of Colombia.” The University’s decision about the wording was made after a careful examination of the documentary evidence by the Rutgers administration and months of discussion with returned volunteers from Colombia I. The Deputy Director of the Peace Corps spoke at the opening ceremony and at the unveiling of the bronze plaque on November 5, 2010.

Reference to Ghana I as the “first group of Peace Corps volunteers” should have stopped in 2010 with the publication of Robert Klein’s book, “Being First: An Informal History of the Early Peace Corps.” In Lowther’s review of the book, he notes that “Klein and his Ghana I comrades make no claim to being anything other than the first PCVs on foreign soil.” And, arrival on “foreign soil” never was, and is not, the criterion that establishes “volunteer” status.

The First Volunteers: the Peace Corps 2011 Version

In spite of the evidence to the contrary, the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary website is filled with misleading references to Ghana I. One section displays a decade by decade summary of historical milestones. The one for August 1961 notes that, “The first group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Ghana I, arrives in Accra to serve as teachers.” While one milestone notes that in June 1961 “Tanganyika I and Colombia I begin training for service,” it does not refer to them as “volunteers.”

Another feature of the 50th anniversary website is an Interactive Timeline that features Ghana under the heading “First Peace Corps Volunteers.” It makes no mention of Colombia or Colombia I.

It would be easy to ignore or dismiss an isolated error or a misleading statement about “first volunteers.” However, the frequent references to Ghana I as “the first volunteers,” make it difficult to view the statements as casual errors or mistakes.

After a review of the website, the Friends of Colombia sent the Peace Corps a letter and timeline of events with references. It asked the agency to update its website and recognize Colombia I as the first Peace Corps volunteers in its public statements.” The letter has not been answered nor acknowledged.

Honoring the Legacy

The Peace Corps should delete or modify misleading statements on the 50th Anniversary website. And, it should affirm the status of Colombia I as “the first Peace Corps volunteers” in its publications and presentations for the 50th celebrations. While the Peace Corps can select historical highlights to support recruitment and information campaigns, it has a more important obligation to present an accurate account of its past. Failure to so would discredit the agency and be out of line with the spirit of the Peace Corps.

 

 

Ronald A. Schwarz was Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia I and later became an anthropologist. He was a faculty member at Williams College, Colgate, Tulane and the Johns Hopkins University, and the Director of Development Solutions for Africa (Kenya). He is co-editor of three books and is currently writing a book about Colombia I, “Kennedy’s Orphans.”

 

ENDNOTES

[1] http://multimedia.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/media/PCTimes_50th_Edition_milestones.pdf

Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 2004, p. 193.

Sargent Shriver, “Report to the President on the Peace Corps.” In, POF, Box 85, JFKML.

http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/peace-corps/images/executive-order-01.jpg

Sargent Shriver, Summary of report to the President on the Peace Corps, February 28, 1961 for release to A.M. Papers Sunday, March 5, 1961. CARE Record, MSS & Archives Section, N.Y.P.L.

Rice, Gerard T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1985, pgs. 160 – 163.

Peace Corps News, Vol. 1, No. 1, June 1961.

Obtained by the author from members of Colombia I during research conducted between 2003 and 2005.

Kennett Love, New Brunswick, N.J. June 26 -Special to The New York Times, published June 27, 1961.

The Washington Post, Times Herald, Peace Corps Going to Ghana. New Brunswick, N.J. June 26, (AP). Published June 27, 1961.

Booklet published by the Peace Corps for the tree-planting ceremony held as part of the Peace Corps’ 25th Anniversary celebrations in Washington, D.C. in September, 1986. Original copy obtained by Ronald A. Schwarz who participated in the event.

The National Archives.  http://www.digitalvaults.org/#/detail/1922/?record=1922

Obtained by the author from members of Colombia I during research conducted between 2003 and 2005.  It is also worth noting that the dates next to “from” and “to” are reversed. The certificate should read “from June 26, 1961 to June 25, 1963.” That would be exactly two years.

Booklet published by the Peace Corps for the tree-planting ceremony held as part of the Peace Corps’ 25th Anniversary celebrations in Washington, D.C. in September, 1986. Original copy obtained by Ronald A. Schwarz who participated in the event.

http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/2010/11/rutgers-university-dedicates-plaque-honoring-first-peace-corps-volunteers/

http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/2010/11/rutgers-university-dedicates-plaque-honoring-first-peace-corps-volunteers/

http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/review-of-robert-kleins/. .

http://multimedia.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/media/PCTimes_50th_Edition_milestones.pdf

Ibid.

http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=about.fiftieth

The “Friends of Colombia,” a group that includes Returned Volunteers that served in Colombia in the 1960s and 1970s, sent a letter to the Peace Corps (August 2, 1961) that included key references cited in this essay. Copy of letter email sent to the author.

21 Comments

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  • Not so important to most of the rest of us, I think. It’s also Talmudic hairsplitting? And an accident of timing, with no other significance. But Perhaps Columbia 1 should be issued Peace Corps authorized Foam Number 1 Hands it can brandish whenever RPCVs gather.
    Officially, Ghana 1 is listed as the first Peace Corps post with Volunteers on the ground (August 30, 1961). The Colombia I and Tanganyika I programs were the first to start preparing Trainees for their assignments starting on June 25, 1961. The Colombia 1 group began duty on September 8, 1961 and Tanganyika 1 began duty on September 30, 1961.
    But not so fast.
    “In connection with the 25th Anniversary Celebration (September 18 – 21, 1986), Peace Corps headquarters published a booklet that lists, in chronological order, the early Volunteer Groups. Colombia I is the first, Tanganyika I is second and Ghana I is third. A footnote explains that Colombia is first because of the time zone difference between the East Coast and Texas (where the Tanganyika group trained).”
    Different time zones? That’s it?
    “The volunteers selected for Colombia arrived at Rutgers on June 25th. Training officially began the following day, June 26th , at 8:00 AM EDT. The group destined for Tanganyika started in El Paso two hours later.”
    That’s the thread upon which Colombia I is hanging its claim? A two hour time difference?
    And what of Ghana I being the first group actually on the ground on August 30. Doesn’t matter because “arrival on ‘foreign soil’ never was, and is not, the criterion that establishes ‘volunteer’ status.”
    Sorry, Ghana I. No foam finger for you.

  • The PC’s Office of Strategic Information, Research and Planning selected and parsed their words carefully to convey a false conclusion. There is no doubt that “Ghana 1 was the first Peace Corps post (evidently meaning “group”) with Volunteers on the ground” (i.e., in country). This is also true: “The Colombia 1 and Tanganyika 1 programs were the first to start preparing Trainees for their assignments…both groups started training in the United States on June 25, 1961.” This neglects to account for the time change between New Jersey and Texas, the small difference that accounts for Colombia 1 RPCVs’ claim to be “The First Volunteers.” Also without question: “The Colombia 1 group began duty (evidently meaning “in country”) on September 8, 1961 and Tanganyika 1 began duty on September 30, 1961.”
    The posting goes on to say: “Based on the standard definition utilized by Peace Corps for these early programs, the first Peace Corps program to open (now evidently “open” means “exist” ?) was Ghana.” The implication is incorrect.

    Ron Schwarz’s article correctly establishes (based on historical documents) that those gathering at Rutgers University on June 25, 1961 were “PC Volunteers” upon arrival and were therefore “The First Volunteers.”

  • This is so sad. I wish somebody could have persuaded Dr. Schwarz to concentrate his considerable talent and energy on his memoir, “Kennedy’s Orphans.” The book has been years in the making, but I can not find any evidence that it has been completed and published. Colombia I completed service on June 26, 1963. President Kennedy was still very much alive. Why the working title?

    I think the history of Colombia I after service is critically important. Let me explain why. I was a member of the all female Colombia XI. We do can claim a historical “First”. (Although being female, we may not be equipped to engage in the traditional male contest to settle such issues)

    We started training July 7, 1963 and completed training October 11, 1963. We were the last group to complete training at the University of New Mexico that year. We also were the first “daughter” group of Colombia Peace Corps. Why? We were the first group to enter training AFTER Colombia I had completed their service. (Colombia VIII was trained by Colombia I RPCVs, but their training began a few weeks before Colombia I officially completed their service.)

    Our Community Development training was also done by Colombia I RPCVs. We believed that they also sat on our Selection Boards and had veto power over who was selected. I could not find any historical documents to confirm this. Dr. Schwarz’s book could be one source for such verification or to lay that belief to rest.

    I also believed that Returning Volunteers would train and then move into management positions in Peace Corps. I thought that in a few years, all of Peace Corps staff would be RPCVs. What happened? Forty-two days after we completed training, Kennedy was assassinated. What was lost in Dallas?

    I don’t know. I thought that the relationship between Colombia I RPCVs and Peace Corps would be the model for the transition of power from those who had no field experience as Volunteers to those who did. I can find nothing in the historical records that would verify this.

    So, Dr. Schwarz and remaining Colombia I RPCVs, please tell your stories to answer the most important question in history; “What happened next?”

  • We had “high hopes” (hear it now, a song sung later than those early days. which are now slathered on the heap history becomes) —
    –the “high hoping” that emerged after WW Two through the 1950’s that should/ may/ might yet be explored, explicated, diced, cremated.

    What bright faces the now old photos from the early years show.

    When we were young, we were apprentices beginning our lives.

    I began being attracted to the idea of the APPRENTICESHIP as a description of a life journey after reading the Lincoln part of Josephine Miles’ poem “For Magistrates” that was first published in her last book, the COLLECTED POEMS 1930-1983..

    (Connected to this was the Confucius admonition not to conflate error and thus turning it into a crime.)

    “For Magistrates” is BY FAR the longest poem Jo would publish.

    Here are lines about Lincoln (though it is a poem most fully all together to complete the meaning — and perhaps she was still in process of simplifying it when she began to fail and see her end).
    ” – – – – – – – – – – – -………………………………….
    Shaving, an uncle asks,
    What is this face before me in the mirror?
    Look well, children, for you see
    A face that may grow handsomer every day.
    Not Alger, not Narcissus in the stream.

    Gazing at it, would the martyr ghost
    Returned from the grave
    Ask, Is this the face I shaved?

    As we search the photographs, bearded to full-whiskered,
    We watch a man not yet forty
    Who might be years younger
    Develop into an ageless ancient, which indeed his secretaries
    called him
    He would be considered no worldly success till late in his
    career
    But his many failures read
    Less as mischance than as apprenticeship.
    The superiority of Abraham Lincoln over other statesmen
    Lies in the limitless dimension of a conscious self,
    Its capacities and conditions of deployment.
    In 1863 Walt Whitman watched him
    During some of the worst weeks of the war.
    I think well of the President. He has a face
    Like a Hoosier Michael Angelo, so awfully ugly
    It becomes beautiful, with its strange mouth,
    Its deep-cut crisscross lines,
    And its doughnut complexion.
    Suffering endured stoked his energy
    With penetration and foresight, often hidden from contemporaries,
    Visible
    Through restored photos.” (“The Magistrates”, pages 247-253)

  • As the now senior citizen daughter of the Director of Peace Corps Colombia 1 – I look back with pride and amazement at what these “kids” were willing to step up and do. These boys arrived in a foreign country having no idea what was in store for them but full of excitement and optimism. I was just barely a teenager when they arrived so my memories are accordingly influenced…..but it seemed to me that my parents suddenly adopted 50 new sons. Indeed my home became the touchstone for many of the Volunteers who were understandably homesick, at times overwhelmed, and came to consider my parents their surrogate parents. I wish I had been older so I could have had a better appreciation of the program… the memories that I do have make me feel proud to have been a tiny part of that time. I do remember several times when our house and my Mom became an unexpected nurse to boys who needed to recover from hepatitis, dysentery and other medical ailments that readily afflicted them. It was like having a huge family of incredibly busy, fun and productive people.
    Sadly, both my mother and father have passed on within the last three years, but many of the Colombia 1 boys never lost touch w them. They forged a bond of respect and affection that clearly affected the lives on both sides. Even I can quickly pull up a picture in my mind of George Kroon sitting astride a horse in his village – a sight you could only appreciate if you knew that George must have been at least 6’5” (I’m just guessing!) and the average Colombian peasant was probably 5’8”. George looked positively statuesque.
    I was browsing the net looking for details of that time for a talk I am planning on sharing with a group of fellow senior citizens which is how I stumbled on this site. If any Volunteers happen to see this, I would welcome any communication.
    Carol Cregger (Vaughan)

    • The interviews I conducted with members of Colombia One leave no doubt that your father, Mert Cregger, was the “father” of the group. The Peace Corps and the nation of Colombia benefitted from his insight into community development and his ability to manage all of us.

  • There are two places you might look for more information, both are on the Internet. One is the American University’s special collection: Peace Corps Community Archives including the Friends of Colombia collection.

    The other is the webpage for the alumni group, Friends of Colombia. For some reason, I can not post the actual links, but they should be readily available if you google by name. Good Luck!

  • I believe that Ghana was the first PC country due to an agreement between Kwame Nkrumah and President Kennedy with Nigeria ,Tanganyika and many others following closely behind. Colombia was another early project.

  • Colombia I trained at Rutgers University, a public university. I queried the Librarian to see if documents from that training time were available to the public. Here is her reply.

    Erika Gorder To JoanneRoll
    Cc Erika Gorder gorder@libraries.rutgers.edu

    Nov 27 2018, 05:28pm via System

    Dear Joanne,

    Unfortunately, most of our collections are accessible, but on-site only. I do understand that you might not be able to visit from Denver. We are open to the general public, and anyone may visit and use our collections during our normal operating hours.

    Also, if there was something specific that you were looking for, I could have our graduate assistant take a quick look in a more focused way. (i.e. if you were interested in a particular person involved, etc.)

    Let me know how you would like to proceed.

    All the best,

    Erika

  • The JFK LIBRARY In BOSTON has the archives for the Ghana One group (as well as one floor devoted to Hemingway). I have been there.

  • Edward, Thank you for this information.

    The JFK Library accepted all kinds of memorabilia from people who were with the Peace Corps when
    Kennedy was President. The RPCV Oral History project accepts histories from all RPCVs.

    Were you able to look at the archives for Ghana One? I know that Ghana One trained at an University in California. I don’t know which one. Do you know if the Ghana One training documents are at the JFK Library?

  • I saw everything but it was after one of our Ghana One reunions up in Cape Anne. Ten of us went.

    Newell Flather is a Ghana One RPCV who can best answer queries. He lives around Boston and is among our point-persons.

    We trained at UC-Berkeley CA in 1961 summer.

    Don’t know about the training documents, but it is likely.

    Until he died, Robert Klein knew so much and he wrote a book BEING FIRST.

    I’ll ponder and reply further. The information storage and retrieval systems have become inflexible and require patience.

    mycueed@yahoo.com 415 387-2471 Apt 320, 3595 Geary Blvd, San Francisco CA 94118

    Ghana One has a monthly ZOOM meeting these recent months. 20 of the original 50 have participated–usually a dozen each time..

  • BEING FIRST: AN INFORMAL HISTORY OF THE EARLY PEACE CORPS by Bob (“Robert Klein Peace Corps Volunteer Ghana 1961-1963” on the bottom part of the front comer) published in 2010 by Wheatmark, 610 East Delano Street, Suite 104, Tucson, Arizona 85705. The international standard book number for it is ISBN 978-1-60494-457-0 and it has an LCCN number 2010925686

    Here is a little post I wrote:
    I was a young Ghana hand once when age twenty-four in the Brong-Ahafo rain forest west of Kumasi and near to the border of the Ivory Coast east. Today, I have lived as far west of the North American continent as you can get being here for fifty years in San Francisco at the edge of the Pacific rim facing in the direction of Asia.
    I was born in Niagara Falls overlooking the Canadian border north and when age eleven went south to north Texas to live until I went northeast to graduate school in Boston.
    It was after that I went to west Africa and was there until my father Jack was dying in Dallas.
    I got a job travelling all over the southwest USA the five states of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas for the next three years.
    Then I went north and east again for another three years in Washington, D.C.
    Then I left for two and a half years east to western Europe writing and working off and on the docks of Rotterdam, the vineyards of Languedoc in southern France, tutoring in Denmark.
    Then back “home” that was to be far west in the USA being here in California at the edge of it.
    I expect I will be ending my days in this northwest section of San Francisco imagining Asia, and New Zealand (where I anticipated and dreamed of going in 1958 and even wrote a verse that never erased itself, but have never been.)…. (C) Copyright Edward Mycue 9 July 2020

    Here is another small post I wrote about my introduction to the idea of the Peace Corps.

    I first met the then Senator John (Jack) Fitzgerald Kennedy in early summer 1960

    in Cambridge, Massachusetts (when he was seeking the Democrat Party nomination for U.S. President) at WGBH-TV on the M.I.T. campus (where it was then housed) when I was an Lowell Council for Cooperative Broadcasting intern and graduate student at Boston University Graduate School for Public Relations and Communications (as it was then named)
    when he was interviewed by Louis Lyons (curator, Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism) on the twice-weekly New England News quarter-hour news and interviews where Lyons was the host and I was the technical director.
    I was 23, up from graduate study in government at the then-named North Texas State College in Denton.

    The next time Jack Kennedy came to WGBH-TV was in the autumn after he’d been selected as the Democrat Party candidate for President.

    The third time I met him was in the White House late August the next year first in the Rose Garden following which for individual photographs in the Oval Office. I was in the Ghana group that flew out after that from Washington, D.C. afternoon in a two-engine Convair (with stops in the Azores for refueling and in Dakar, Senegal for supplies) to Accra, Ghana where we were to teach in secondary schools and I was assigned to a new one outside Acherensua a village in the Brong-Ahafo state (part of the old Kumasi kingdom) in the rain forest near the eastern border with the Ivory Coast.

    I saw him next in Dallas two blocks before he was shot riding with the First Lady his wife on Elm Street.

    Today I can still see them, Louis Lyons and Jack Kennedy, from on the other side of the small glassed-in control room looking out into the slightly larger one where Lyons would interview and report.

    WGBH was a small station in a two-story brick building that I’d heard had formerly housed a roller rink. Next to it was the Kresge auditorium and the famed chapel where we did big interviews such as the one I floor-managed with Aldous Huxley as the guest. He was nice as nice to me and spoke so vituperatively of Richard Nixon. Over one building was the Charles River and the Massachusetts Avenue bridge to Boston from Cambridge. WGBH is no longer in Cambridge, but moved years ago to the Boston and Boston University side of the Charles. © Copyright Edward Mycue June 1, 2017

    And here is another piece I wrote:

    I have been thinking again about the beginnings of the Peace Corps (I had been an intern at WGBH-TV then on the MIT campus in Cambridge and in the 1960 summer when I first began hearing of some pointed pre-peace corps without of course that name. And then Harold Stassen, Hubert Humphrey, Mrs Roosevelt, Adalai Stevenson, and Senator John F. Kennedy came by the station before the conventions on our New England News program with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism host for who I worked as the technical camera switching director his series twice weekly –15 minutes/ or 14min28secs–) . Then they came back after the Dem and Rep conventions. The program questions interest to us was each time about an international program somewhat equivalent to the Friends Foreign Service Committee. When the next year came and KENNEDY was elected and in March I recall established the PC and following the call went out to take tests then I took the one in Harvard Yard at the Sanders I think, in the basement on Saturday. At the end of May 1961, I got snagged to go to Ghana even though the telegram said China and I figured would be Ghana and had confused the clerk sending it. Then to UC Berkeley in June 1961 for training. The D.C. & the White House end of August before going by a 2-engine Convair Aug 31, 1961 with first fueling stop The Azores, then down again to Dakar, Senegal to pick-up supplies (I guess for the U.S.Embassy), then up and then down in Accra where we were shuttled to The University College (buillt on the Jefferson U of Virginia model) in nearby Legon for a week of talking, looking, and learning where to be sent. Preface to this all was my beginning to all this having come up from Dallas and North Texas State-Denton grad studies with a teaching fellowship there to Boston University as a Lowell Fellow. I stayed in the Back Bay near Copley Square. The other day I wrote about what it was like where I settled. You might be amused at the history-feeling-memory of “back then” in the poem of mine: THE MOON

    MADE ITS WAY BELOW THROUGH SUNKEN ALLEYS BEHIND MRS CURTIS’S BASEMENT KITCHEN. FROM MY THIRD FLOOR I MIGHT HEAR CATS SCRABBLING THROUGH BACK YARDS’ TRASH. SHARDS OF BROKEN GLASS, DIAMOND-LIKE, SPARKLED WITHIN THAT NARROW ALLEY LANE. HAVING DANCED DOWN SLIPPERY BRICK STEPS THOSE CATS HAD TAKEN OVER A BOSTON NIGHT. 1960, HALFWAY DOWN DARTHMOUTH PLACE, A WALK TO COPLEY SQUARE, I WAS 23 RENTING IN A PART BOARDED-UP DEAD END ROW A ‘LIGHT HOUSEKEEPING’ ROOM FOR 7 BUCK 50 A WEEK .
    ON LINED NOTEBOOK PAGES IN PENCIL I PRESSED DOWN SCRABBLY POEMS AS IF ON PARCHMENT. © COPYRIGHT Edward Mycue 27 May 2019 Memorial Day 8:58am

    Edward Mycue to Laura Damon on August 24, 2020, Monday 7:30pm

  • In his book “Being First: An informal history of the early Peace Corps” Robert Klein does not claim that Ghana was the first group of PCVs. In the INTRODUCTION On page xi he writes “This is Ghana I, the first Peace Corps Volunteers to go overseas in 1961 and I am one of that group.” The case for Colombia I, made in the article above provides the evidence for the group to Colombia as the first. And, Robert Klein and I discussed the issue several times while, in the early years of this century, we conducted research at the JFK Library in Boston.

    • Ronald, Are you still planning on publishing your memoir? Have you been able to visit the Peace Corps Community ARchives at American University?

  • I recall Robert Klein saying “first in the field” along with talking about his book BEING FIRST, if that might round out his intentions.
    There was also the designation of Thomas Livingston (PhD later in African History, Columbia U I think) as “the first” of Ghana 1 to be posted to his school and thus “the first PC volunteer” in the field (and as such was invited to the White House for the big celebration of the Peace Corps–President and Mrs Clinton were the residents at that time, and a big coffee table book was soon after published with a big photo of Tom Livingston and Georgianna Shine McGuire, another of Ghana 1 looking so very lovely, yes lovely is the word and in a royal yellow Carolyn Herrera top that would have cost $10,000 new but she scored for pennies in a thrift shop in the Washington D.C.area, and Tom looked glowing as well. Wish I had bought that book but it was expensive even then maybe 20 years ago.). Well those are the breaks, and Dr Thomas Livingston died several years ago (I went to his funeral). Well, all I can say is that we were there at the beginning as were a lot of others and representatives of the other groups were there in the Rose Garden on the afternoon when our smiling 50 left afterwards on that 2-engine Convair heading for Accra. And it was thrilling looking out over the Atlantic for hours until we sighted the first of the Azores islands (seeming from the air to be so very far apart) where we re-fueled probably at the last one. And then off to Senegal and were gob-smacked by seeing the first jut-out of AFRICA and Dakar high up over the great wall of cliffs (that nobody had talked about — like those cliffs in Dover or in western Ireland). Then I guess we got more fuel + supplies for the US Embassy and maybe others and quickly left for GHANA. fUNNY NOW to think that we PC volunteers mostly in our 20’s were the “payload” of some kind. It is like a COMEDY in the sense Dante used it for his Divine one. We didn’t fly to the sun or the moon, but it was our grand flight out and up up and away in our beautiful balloon (as the song of some years later now comes to my inner ears to accompany my memory). I didn’t stay long in my secondary school in Acherensua, Brong-Ahafo having had to ET as my dad in Dallas was dying and I was needed. I was the only college graduate in a family of 7 siblings some quite younger. That early departure is probably the reason I remember the beginnings of the Peace Corps so well, even going back to June 1960 when I first met JFK and others (including Harold Stassen, a Republican of some great note then) running for primaries and in the Fall when Kennedy answered a question by Louis Lyons on his New England News segment at WGBH-TV (then on the MIT campus in Cambridge–right at the Charles River Bridge to Boston)–about what was to become later called THE PEACE CORPS. I’ve told it before more than once ever here in a reply over the recent decades here on this very site now called for sometime PEACECORPSWORLDWIDE.ORG

  • What great memories you have and you write of them so beautifully! Marian Haley Beil also remembers the story of the JFK interview at WGBH. I tried to find the transcript of the interview but have not been successful Your recollection may be the only record.

  • I have no idea how I fell into this correspondence on Aug 30, 2020,
    but
    as I was the Peace Corps program director’s wife in Tanzania [sic] 50+ years ago, I’m glad to be here.
    Best wishes,
    Susan Klee [Mihaly at the time]
    Oakland CA
    skleeberk@icloud.com

  • Tanzania (sic) was the third program to train and arrive in the host country, in the Fall of 1961. When were you there? You might well have been with one of the pioneer programs.

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