Written by on March 5, 2018

Today marks the 57th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961.

During his Presidential campaign in 1960, President Kennedy floated the idea that a new “army” should be created by the United States.  This force would be made up of civilians who would volunteer their time and skills to travel to developing nations to assist them across many sectors.

To fulfill this plan, JFK issued an executive order on March 1, 1961 establishing the Peace Corps as a trial program.  Kennedy sent a message to Congress asking for its support and made clear the significance of developing nations to the USA.  The people of these nations were desirous of “economic and social progress,” stated the President.  “Our own freedom and the future of freedom around the world, depend, in a very real sense, on their ability to build growing and independent nations where men [and women] can live in dignity, liberated from the bonds of hunger, [lack of education], and poverty.”   Many Americans were skeptical but the events of the time, including conflicts in Southeast Asia, Central/Northern/East Africa, Central America and the Middle East, along with the Cold War, inspired Congress to make Peace Corps permanent in September of that same year.

JFK first spoke of the Peace Corps on the steps of U of Michigan in Ann Arbor at 2AM, the morning after he had engaged in the third presidential debate with Vice President Richard Nixon.  Over 10,000 students were waiting for him when he arrived at the university.  JFK issued the challenge to them and all Americans to serve their country and the cause of freedom by living and working in the developing world for years at time.

The response was immediate.  Literally thousands of letters poured into Washington from young Americans hoping to volunteer in the week right after JFK’s executive order.

The very first Volunteers went to Ghana and impressed their hosts when they gathered on the airport tarmac upon arrival to sing the Ghanaian national anthem in Twi, the local language.

The EC also hosted one of the first three groups of Peace Corps Volunteers, in 1961.

Today over 260,000 Americans of all demographics have answered the call to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers and work to promote world peace and friendship.  I am proud to be one of those 260,000 RPCVs, as are Wes and Christine.

We salute our current EC PCVs, their counterparts, our EC and Peace Corps Staff around the world, and all PCVs/RPCVs, for we are all part of the life-changing, world-improving Peace Corps effort and experience.

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