When Presidents Greeted PCVs on the South Lawn of the White House

Lee Tuveson (Nepal (1962–64) was nice enough to send me a copy of the address that John F. Kennedy made to 600+ Peace Corps Trainees in Washington, D.C. on August 9, 1962. Lee , who was in attendance, was headed off to Nepal with that country’s first group of PCVs,  and Marian Beil and I, who were there as well, were leaving after Labor Day with the first group of Volunteers to Ethiopia. Here are JFK’s remarks to us, but really, Kennedy’s comments were for all the PCVs who would join the Peace Corps in the years to come. It would be great now to get comments from other departing Trainees who were on the White House lawn that August afternoon, and from those PCVs who were at “send-offs” by other presidents, or by Peace Corps Directors, in later years. What do you remember?

Ladies and gentlemen:

We are very glad to welcome you here to the White House. This occasion gives me a particular sense of satisfaction to welcome 6oo Americans from all parts of the country who have committed themselves to a great adventure, I think, for our country and more than our country, for really all people.

kennedy-pcv-send-offI think that by the end of this year we’ll have more than 5,ooo Peace Corpsmen, men and women of all ages, serving abroad in all parts of the world, in countries about which most Americans knew little 10 years ago, countries which we did not even know existed 20 years ago.

This is an extraordinary action by this country, and I know that you are proud to take part in it. And I must say that it gives me the greatest satisfaction that it’s taking Place at this time.

I’ve been through the list of the various areas to which you are going-Georgetown University, 307 secondary school teachers for Ethiopia. Perhaps those of you going to Ethiopia could hold up your hands. We have 2 medical doctors for Ethiopia included in that group.

Now there are 11 teachers, nurses, auto mechanics, going to Afghanistan. Oh, they’re not here today; they’ve gone to Afghanistan.

From George Washington University, 76 secondary and college teachers and agricultural extension workers for Nepal. Would they raise their hands? Very good.

University of Maryland, 48 secondary school teachers and agricultural workers for Turkey, and 36 teachers, at all levels, for British Honduras-you’ve got them sort of down at that end [indicating].

Nineteen secondary school teachers for Ecuador, 12 secondary school teachers for Venezuela.

And at Howard University, 29 rural development workers for Cyprus-is that better than going to British Honduras? I don’t think it is-22 English teachers for Togo, 20 medical doctors, nurses, and technicians for Togo, 9 fishermen for Togo, 7 English teachers for Niger, 6 English teachers for Senegal, 9 medical doctors, nurses, technicians for Sierra Leone-613.

Well, I must say I wish that all Americans could hear that litany of countries that you’re going to, your willingness to do it. And I hope that when you come back that we can persuade you to come and serve in the United States Government in other areas, particularly in the Foreign Service, in all of the areas, because I think the United States is so heavily involved in so many parts of the world. We are so in need of dedicated men and women of talent and experience, that I can think of no more significant recruiting ground than the Peace Corps for our future Foreign Service Officers, for those who represent our information services and aid agencies abroad. So I hope that you will regard this as the first installment in a long life of service in the most exciting career in the most exciting time, and that is serving this country in the sixties and the seventies. So we are very proud to have you here.

The White House belongs to all the people, but I think it particularly belongs to you.


NOTE: The President spoke at 4 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. The trainees were introduced by Warren W. Wiggins, Associate Director for Program Development and Operations of the Peace Corps.


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  • There was a July 4th parade in Ypsilanti Michigan where the Somalia II’s trained in the summer of 1964. Governor George Romney broke stride with the parade he was marching in, to come over to our PCVs-to-be group on the sidewalk to wish us well and said something to the effect of: “When you get there, show ’em what democracy is like!”

    Don Beil
    Somalia II

  • This was an exciting day for all of us who were in Turkey I. There were some in our group who were actually thrilled to shake the President’s hand, and it was only a month later we were on our way to Ankara for a three week stay and then on to our assigned towns. Sadly, we had a new president in fewer than 15 months. However, his enthusiasm for the Peace Corps will always endure in our hearts and minds.
    Warren Kinsman
    Turkey I 1962-1964

  • My husband Earle and I were sworn in by Vice President Lyndon B Johnson, not on the White House lawn but in the mountainous central town of Barranquitas, Puerto Rico in the summer of 1962. We had all our training there for community development, beginning with the camps in Arecibo for the physical training and “drown-proofing” with Freddy Lanou, followed by university classes and language training and “operation bootstrap” community development Puerto Rican style. We were one of the first groups to not go thru University training in the states before being sent to our sites in Ecuador. Does anyone else remember having to “rapel” off the dry dam face, or ride the zip line through the jungle trees or hike for four days in the mountains relying just on what we could glean from the natural environment for food?

  • Ronda…I did the bit at Camp Radley in Puerto Rico, thought this was harder than basic training in the Army. Thou I joined later going to Colombia 1964-66…I was a trainer at Radley. I hope current Volunteers read what JFK said, save the message, and take it out and read often. He made a difference so that we could make the change…Hope State has not forgotten JFK’s message! Bob

  • I was one of the 307 going to Ethiopia and one of the three from that group that subsequently joined the Foreign Service, and there were some who also went into USAID. So Kennedy’s appeal worked.

    I would comment on Kennedy’s statement about countries that, “we did not know existed 20 years ago.” DId he mean that we did know about these countries 20 years ago or that they did not exist 20 years ago? The latter interpretation would be correct but the former speaks to the persistent complaint that Americans do not know much about the rest of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Yes, the average American probably does not know the now famous “President of Uzbekibekistan” but there are plenty of Americans who do. Americans speak all the languages of the world, something no other country can boast. Americans are scholars of all the countries, cultures, languages, geography and other aspects of the world. In fact America could rightly claim to have more knowledge of the world than any other country.

  • Back to you FlacoBob,

    Thanks for responding….when we were there, the camp had not yet been named for Crozier or Radley, just PC training camp. We also had to do a 5 mile run in the morning before breakfast and the whole bit. I think they were trying to weed out the faint of heart as well as the faint of body. Were you there as a trainer in 1962 summer? We might have met! Remember Freddy Lanou famous for “drownproofing”? I have used that skill many times and taught it to others. We met him later as the next door neighbor of my aunt in Amherst MA!

  • Rhoda, I do remember the drown proofing…and I never learned to swim but always stayed relaxed. I went to Radley in 1966 after Colombia 64-66…but the Puerto Rican cooks remembered all of you with photos to share. After running our 3-5 miles…we would have the Trainees sing the national anthem of their country of assignment…sometimes more difficult than the run…no breakfast until all the national anthems were sung…Training now is too easy! I am back in Colombia as a Response Volunteer after 46 years…nothing but fun! And Peace Corps is the same and the spirit is high! Bob

  • President Lyndon Johnson sent us off on the White House lawn in May or June of 1964. We were in training for Colombia and Venezuela at Columbia University School of Social Work in New York and were bused down to the White House.LBJ, after the death of JFK, wanted to acknowledge that he too cared about the Peace Corps. There is a black and white picture of Sam Farr, a woman whose name I do not recall and myself meeting the President. Sam is a Congressman from California today. She became an ambassador in Africa and I became a journalist.

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