I am convinced that if, in the future, our country is to meet the unparalleled opportunity to win friends and advance the cause of peace and freedom, thousands of additional Americans will have to step forward and say, “I will serve.”
—from the statement of Robert Sargent Shriver, given in Chicago, IL, on May 17, 1961
Robert Sargent Shriver (1915–2011) lived a long and full life, fighting in World War II as a gunner on a Navy boat during the the Battle of Guadalcanal, serving as the ambassador to France in the late 1960s, and joining the extensive Kennedy clan when he married Eunice Kennedy in 1953. He also ran as the vice-presidential candidate with George McGovern against Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in 1972.
But in the National Archives, Sargent Shriver’s legacy is the Peace Corps. Shriver served as the first Director of the Peace Corps from 1961 to 1966. A search in the OPA database yields numerous Peace Corps documents, including the statement below, describing Shriver’s trip to eight countries to speak with heads of state and the men and women on the street about the possibility of Peace Corps volunteers coming to live and work there.
Sargent Shriver was listening carefully to the reactions of citizens in the possible host country. A headman in a village assured him that “If someone from the Peace Corps would come here, we would welcome him.” He also notes that some people worried that Americans living far out in the countryside would not be able to “give up luxuries like automobiles, air conditioning, and television.” Meanwhile others saw his young volunteers as a threat, demanding that he and his “Peace Corps guerillas” leave the country.
But Sargent Shriver was not concerned. He saw the Peace Corps as a means to demonstrate democracy as an alternative to communism, a chance for young people to learn as much as to teach, and a challenge for America to wage war on “ancient problems” in peacetime.
Sargent Shriver died on Tuesday, January 18, in the 50th anniversary year of the Peace Corps. His legacy of service and compassion live on in the thousands of American citizens who served and serve now as Peace Corps volunteers.