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As the world knows, today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  On November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, we lost our President and the world lost the opportunity to see what he may have achieved. Today, there will be many postings on blogs and stories on other media about the life and assassination of JFK, so I will use my post today to repost about one of his greatest achievements, the Peace Corps.

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In an important victory for his Cold War foreign policy, President John F. Kennedy signs legislation establishing the Peace Corps as a permanent government agency. Kennedy believed that the Peace Corps could provide a new and unique weapon in the war against communism.

On this day in 1961, Congress presented a bill providing $40 million to permanently establish the Peace Corps. | AP Photo

On this day in 1961, Congress presented a bill providing $40 million to permanently establish the Peace Corps. | AP Photo

During the presidential campaign of 1960, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy promised to reinvigorate U.S. foreign policy. He charged that the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower had become stagnant and unimaginative in dealing with the communist threat, particularly in regards to the so-called Third World nations. Shortly after his inauguration in January 1961, Kennedy made good on his promise for a new and aggressive foreign policy. On March 1, 1961, he issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. As described by Kennedy, this new organization would be an “army” of civilian volunteers–teachers, engineers, agricultural scientists, etc.–who would be sent to underdeveloped nations in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere to assist the people of those regions.

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued an Executive Order creating the Peace Corps. Three days later, Sargent Shriver was appointed its first director.

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued an Executive Order creating the Peace Corps. Three days later, Sargent Shriver was appointed its first director.

Kennedy hoped that by improving the lives of people in less developed countries, they would become more resistant to the charms of communism and convinced of America’s sincerity and ability to help them. Many in Congress, however, were not convinced. The program carried a fairly hefty price tag. Though the participants were volunteers, they would need basic subsistence and, more important, tools and money to help the people they were sent to assist. Some members of Congress saw it as an expensive public relations ploy, foreign aid (which had never been popular with Congress or the American people) wrapped in a new ribbon.

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The program, however, actually turned out to have popular appeal. Stories about idealistic young Americans braving privation in foreign lands to help people grow better crops, build schools, or construct wells was good public relations material for the United States. In September 1961, Congress passed legislation establishing the Peace Corps on a permanent basis. A budget of $40 million for the next fiscal year was approved.

"Kennedy's Orphans" is the story of Colombia One, the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers. They arrived at Rutgers University on June 25, 1961 and began training on the following day at 8:00 AM EDT. Two hours later a group bound for Tanganyika started training in El Paso, Texas. This happened less than four months after President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924 that created the Peace Corps (March 1, 1961). The legislation that officially established the agency was passed by Congress and signed by the President on September 22, 1961 . . . two weeks after the first volunteers had arrived in Colombia. The following story is based on the experience of the author and the other 61 members of Colombia One. The content is drawn from draft chapters of a memoir - "Kennedy's Orphans" - that covers the volunteers' years in South America (1961-63) and their careers after President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

“Kennedy’s Orphans” is the story of Colombia One, the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers. They arrived at Rutgers University on June 25, 1961 and began training on the following day at 8:00 AM EDT. Two hours later a group bound for Tanganyika started training in El Paso, Texas. This happened less than four months after President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924 that created the Peace Corps (March 1, 1961). The legislation that officially established the agency was passed by Congress and signed by the President on September 22, 1961 . . . two weeks after the first volunteers had arrived in Colombia. The following story is based on the experience of the author and the other 61 members of Colombia One. The content is drawn from draft chapters of a memoir – “Kennedy’s Orphans” – that covers the volunteers’ years in South America (1961-63) and their careers after President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

You can read more about the group pictured above here http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messages/467/4004131.html

In the years after 1961, thousands of Peace Corps volunteers were sent around the world. Some faced indifference, some even faced danger. For the most part, however, the Peace Corps “army” proved to be a valuable, and relatively inexpensive, Cold War weapon for the United States. Most nations welcomed the idealistic volunteers, and their labor helped make better lives for hundreds of thousands of people. Though the Peace Corps is no longer viewed as a weapon against communism, its goal of improving lives remains intact–the Peace Corps outlived the Cold War and continues to send participants to various nations.

Charlie went to college for psychology.  In the Peace Corps she's a public health volunteer where she works to prevent HIV / AIDS, malaria, and many other diseases and viruses faced in this part of the world.

Charlie went to college for psychology. In the Peace Corps she’s a public health volunteer where she works to prevent HIV / AIDS, malaria, and many other diseases and viruses faced in this part of the world.

NaBloPoMo November 2013

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2 responses

  1. Good post. I guess many people dont think of the peace corps as one of JFK’s legacies. Thanks for posting

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