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NOTE
: THE DEFINING GENERATION is a project begun by Doug and Pam Sterner in 2002 and completed in 2006. Initially is was prepared for publication as a book, however with their changing focus to development of a database of military awards, was postponed indefinitely so they could concentrate on that larger, more important work. The stories found herein however, need to be shared, and they have consented to make this compilation available in this format. While each story can stand alone, it is recommended that for continuity, readers will be best served by reading the chapters sequentially from first to last.

 

The Defining Generation

-

Defining Human Rights

Peace Corps Politicians

When this book was written in 2006, Christopher Dodd was the only member of the U.S. Senate who is an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). Four of Christopher Shay's colleagues in the House of Representatives also served in the Peace Corps, as has one of our nation's current 50 governors.[1] In 2006 when the Peace Corps celebrated its 45th Anniversary, Senator Christopher Dodd said, "All of us, without exception, are deeply grateful for the experience. Many of us consider serving in Congress to be an extension of serving in the Peace Corps…making people's lives better."

Each of these four additional RPCVs who now serve in Congress as well as the one sitting Governor were asked to reflect on that period of their lives ranging from 1964 to 1972 when they left the comforts of the American Dream at home to serve on behalf of others. Here is what they wrote, in their own words, for this anthology of our generation.


[1] Former Ohio Governor Robert Taft, II, also served in the Peace Corps as a teacher in Tanzania from 1963 - 1965.

 

Congressman Sam Farr

Born July 4, 1941 , Sam Farr is a Democrat who represents California 's 17th District. At age 23 he joined the Peace Corps and served in Columbia from 1964 to 1966.

 Like so many of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, I was moved when JFK challenged Americans to serve, and I knew I wanted to respond to that challenge. I served for two years in a very poor barrio on the hillsides of Medellin, Colombia. My job was to help the barrio establish priorities for infrastructure development, a fancy way of saying I helped them decide what they needed--not what officials thought they needed--and then helped them petition their government to get it.

I was a biology major, so I didn’t know any of this stuff. I had to learn about it as I went. I quickly learned that there’s a process you must follow when helping people: listen to what they want, help them do something that is successful, then use that momentum to complete more projects. You have to build, start simple.

The community decided to start with a soccer field, so we built a soccer field. Of course, I didn’t know the first thing about soccer. But my job was to give them confidence, to give them a success story. Here was this crazy gringo telling them to get together on a Saturday morning, bring a pick and shovel, whatever they could find. But it worked, it was that first step.

So we moved onto a small schoolhouse. Every brick was made by hand, using native soil and a little cement. We had to make hundreds of those. Next, it was sewer lines for their homes. City engineers would survey them, but the people had to dig the ditches and help lay the pipe. We did a lot of those things, we got this momentum going. It was exciting to see the people empowering themselves.

The most lasting lesson I learned was about the culture of poverty. It’s made up of three components: no access to education, no access to health care, and no access to a safe place to sleep. Once you have access to all three, you have a chance to break out of poverty. What we were trying to do was break that culture. And in the process, I learned about my culture. Being a minority in another land, it opened my eyes to poverty in America. To this day, that’s what motivates me to be in politics, to eliminate the root causes of poverty.

It was a wonderful part of my life, but also a painful one. My mother died from cancer while I was in the Peace Corps. My father visited Colombia soon after she died, later returning with my sisters. While we were out horseback riding, my younger sister was thrown and hit her head. Getting her to a hospital was difficult, they had to float her in a dugout canoe. Doctors thought she just had a concussion, but she really had a hematoma. The doctors told my father that she was seriously injured and they had no way to help her. The American embassy flew a neurosurgeon in, but my sister died on the operating table.

We flew home with the body, but I decided the only thing I could do was go back to my barrio. I remember flying back to Colombia and looking down are the countryside, thinking: “You goddamned Third World country. If it wasn’t for you, my sister wouldn’t have died.” But the other side of my brain asked: “Why did you join the Peace Corps? It was to help these people find health care, to help them improve their lives.” It just hit me, that was what it’s all about. My sister’s death reinforced my desire to eliminate poverty.

My wife says to me that I’m still a Peace Corps volunteer, I’ve just changed my barrio. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. That sums it up.

Congressman Sam Farr

 

Congressman Mike Honda

Born June 27, 1941, Mike Honda is a Democrat who represents California's 15th District. A Japanese-American, his family was uprooted from their Walnut Grove, California, home in 1942 and placed in a World War II internment camp. After graduating from high school and before pursuing a college degree, at 24 he became a Peace Corps Volunteer to El Salvador from 1965 to 1967.

In 1965, I was inspired by President John F. Kennedy's call for volunteer service. I was drawn to the idea that I was only one person, but could nonetheless play an active role in addressing global challenges and form bonds with people throughout the world. It was an exciting time to come into adulthood, as we Americans learned to view ourselves, not only in the context of our communities and our nation, but as global citizens.

I fondly remember my time as a volunteer in El Salvador. The experience meant much to me personally and professionally, sparking a lifelong desire to serve in the public sector. I served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador as a "community developer," part of an "educational brigade." The brigade was composed of a team of workers - a team leader, an agronomist, a home economist, and me, the only Peace Corps volunteer. The project was to build critical infrastructure for villages in rural areas. With the community, we built schools, clinics, roads, agricultural projects and credit unions. I have since returned to El Salvador twice and visited some of the projects that still stand, and are still being utilized by the community.
To me, it was not only the projects themselves that were significant, but the people who were involved and the process through which the local population was empowered to complete these projects in spite of their isolation and lack of wealth. The cooperative process created a deep sense of community that endured long after our brigade moved on.

As the communities were transformed by the experience, so was I. I learned a great deal about who I was, my relationship to the world, and to the community that was shaping and growing with me. I returned with a passion for teaching, and quickly put the skills I developed, including fluency in Spanish, to use in Santa Clara County schools. Most importantly, I returned to the United States with a deeper understanding of humanity and a personal commitment to speak on behalf of the marginalized and powerless. I am proud to say that these invaluable lessons continue to inform my decisions as a Member of Congress on a daily basis.
The Peace Corps mission is more vital than ever. Empowering communities in the developing world and building cross-cultural relationships remain critically important today. Our country desperately needs Peace Corps volunteers to demonstrate the best of our values to the world, and develop relationships in the name of friendship and peace. While the global threats facing our country have changed since the creation of the Peace Corps, its fundamental insight again holds true in this generation - that America must engage the world with more than military power alone. I am honored to be a part of this socially transformative and empowering tradition.

Congressman Mike Honda

 

Congressman Thomas Petri

Born Thomas Evert on May 28, 1940, the Republican Congressman from Wisconsin's 6th Congressional District lost his father, a combat casualty of World War II, and his surname was changed after his mother remarried. After graduating from law school he spent a year as a Peace Corps Volunteer to Somalia from 1966 to 1967. He was one of three lawyers sent by the Peace Corps to aid that small country.

In the summer of 1961 I served in Kenya with Operation Crossroads. This was an organization that was a precursor to the Peace Corps, organized by Reverend James Robinson. The program involved American kids and African college students working on projects in different African countries. Motivated by that service, when I came home I responded to President Kennedy's call and applied, back in 1961 when the Peace Corps was created. Had I gone at that time I would have served together with Paul Tsongas (the late Democratic Senator from Massachusetts) in Ethiopia.
Instead, I entered Harvard Law School and told the Peace Corps that perhaps I could do something law-related after I finished. Three years later the Peace Corps got in touch with me and sent me to Somalia to help organize their legal code.

Somalia and the United States are on opposite sides of the world, and the opposite ends of the economic spectrum, so there were lots of opportunities to learn from our differences. Among these were the differences between the British "Imperial" approach, and the American approach to working with people. England incorporated Northern Somalia into the British Empire with three people. We had 250 in our embassy relating to the Somali government.

We tended to have much more of a 'We'll show you how to do it" rather than a "We'll work with you to learn from you and try to work together on things" approach. When I was in Somalia, American Peace Corps volunteers worked, from time to time, on or near American foreign aid projects, and there were constantly stories about how poorly-though-through they were.
For example, things were provided by our taxpayers and government, built with no one really having ownership or responsibility for them, which meant that they weren't maintained. So, water wells were identified as a need in this dry country, and were built and used once or twice. And then, the nomads moved on--and they would fill them in so the next group wouldn't benefit.

To upgrade the livestock in the country, the idea our aid people had was to bring in good, productive Rhode Island Red chickens, without fully realizing that Somalis let their chickens roam and survive on the land--something our chickens were not equipped to do. We did have the idea that we wouldn't just give these chickens away. We would make the Somalis bring in their scrawny chickens in exchange. The Somalis quickly discovered that our chickens were not particularly good at surviving, but were very good for eating. So, they would always wait until it was time to kill a chicken, and then they would take one or more of their scrawny chickens and make an exchange for Rhode Island Reds, and then slaughter them.
It did not have a long-term impact on improving livestock in Somalia. But it certainly made a few Somali weekend festivals a little more happy.

Congressman Thomas Petri

 

Congressman James "Jim" Walsh

Born June 19, 1947, the Republican Congressman from New York's 25th Congressional District, Jim Walsh is the TRUE "Baby Boomer" among the RPCVs currently serving in Congress. At age 23 Walsh served the Peace Corps in Nepal from 1970 to 1972.

Beginning in 1970, after my graduation from Saint Bonaventure University, I worked in Nepal for two years teaching modern agricultural techniques in a country that had only just opened its doors to foreigners in 1950. Located in a valley believed to be inhabited since 900 BC, Kathmandu was a world apart from his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y.

I was immediately struck by the ancient beauty of the natural landscape and of the city itself. In the U.S., our cities are babes in the woods, dating back two centuries perhaps. In Kathmandu, there are buildings nearly 1,000 years old still in use.

Eight of the world's ten highest mountains are in Nepal and Walsh took advantage of that fact, trekking across vast stretches of the country. In the process, he became fluent in Nepalese and developed a great affinity for the Nepali people.

The warmth of the people and the richness of their culture made a lasting impression on me. It was one of the first times I had traveled outside of the place where I grew up, and I was welcomed into a way of life very different from what I was accustomed. The Nepalese were very grateful for the assistance we offered, however I gained just as much from the experience. Therein, I think, lies the success of the Peace Corps. It's one-on-one diplomacy with the U.S. benefiting from the effort as much as the nations who are being helped.

Years later, I returned to South Asia with my eldest son to share the perspective that travel can bring. My time in Nepal with the Peace Corps was very formative in terms of teaching me the rewards of public service. It meant a great deal to me to be able retrace some of those steps and revisit some of those experiences with my son.

Congressman James Walsh

 

Governor Jim Doyle

Born November 23, 1945, Wisconsin's Democrat Governor Jim Doyle responded to the challenge of service after obtaining a baccalaureate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before pursuing his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Harvard University in 1972, Jim Doyle and his wife spent two years with the Peace Corps, serving as teachers in Tunisia from 1970 to 1972. In 2010 Governor Doyle opted not to run for another term as Governor of Wisconsin.

After a ten-hour narrow gauge railroad trip, my wife, Jessica, and I arrived in a small town next to a Tunisian oasis, where our lives changed forever. While we went full of JFK-inspired idealism to serve, we found we gained much more than we could ever repay. Learning Arabic, worrying about whether there would be enough food each day, relying on a warm and welcoming community, meeting bright students eager to learn, among so many other challenges and opportunities, taught us so much about ourselves, the world and the value of service. These are lessons we have tried to keep close to us throughout our lives.

Governor Jim Doyle
Wisconsin

 

The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
All Rights Reserved

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Cover & Introduction
     Preface
Out With the Old
     The Defining Generation

I. - Defining the New
     John Fitzgerald Kennedy
     Roger H.C. Donlon
     Robert Robin Moore
     Barry Sadler
     The Green Beret

II. - Defining Equality
     When Worlds Collide
     Dr. Martin Luther King
     Jimmy Stanford & Vince Yrineo
     Milton Lee Olive, III
     Specialist Lawrence Joel
     Sammy Lee Davis
     Black MOH Recipients - Vietnam War

III. - Defining the Role of the Sexes
     Evolution of a Husband
     Remember the Ladies
     Rosie the Riveter
     Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard
     Linda G. Alvarado
     Karen Irene Offutt
     Women in Military Service
     Lieutenant General Carol Mutter
     The Modern Woman in Combat
IV. - Defining Human Rights
     My Brother's Keeper
     Who is My Brother
     Christopher Dodd & Christopher Shays
     Peace Corps Politicians (Memories)
     Don Bendell
     Sir Edward Artis
     General Colin L. Powell

V. - Defining Entertainment
     Life Imitating Art
     Troubled Waters
     Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
     Brian's Song
     All in the Family
     Adrian Cronauer

VI. - Defining Dissent

     From Berkeley With Love
     The Pen and the Sword
     General David Shoup
     Muhammad Ali
     John Forbes Kerry

VII. - Defining the Future of Politics
     An Act of Congress
     All Politics is....Hereditary?
     Hillary Rodham Clinton
     Condoleezza Rice
     James Henry Webb
The next Section is scheduled for posting on May 20, 2011
VIII. - Defining Memories
     Jaime Pacheco
     The Glory of their Deeds
     Jan Scruggs
     Delbert Schmeling
     Peter C. Lemon

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
The authors extend our thanks to the following who granted personal interviews for this work
: Roger Donlon (MOH), Robin Moore, Don Bendell, Jimmy Stanford, Vince Yrineo, Sammy L. Davis (MOH), Linda Alvarado, Karen Offutt, Lieutenant General Carol Mutter, Sir Edward Artis, General Colin L. Powell, Katharine Houghton, Adrian Cronauer, Jan Scruggs, Delbert Schmeling, and Peter Lemon (MOH).
Our thanks to the staff of the following who either wrote or allowed reprint of their own works for this book: Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, Don Bendell, Congressman Sam Farr, Congressman Thomas Petri, Congressman Mike Honda, Congressman Jim Walsh, Governor Jim Doyle, and Scott Baron.
Our special thanks also to the staff of the following who provided information and fact-checked the chapters related to their subject: Staff of Senator John Kerry, Staff of (then) Senator Hillary Clinton, Staff of Senator Jim Webb
A SPECIAL THANKS also to Dr. Marguerite Guzman Bouvard for his assistance in writing and editing the entire section on the Role of the Sexes.

 

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