Some 50 Peace Corps returnees marched up one by one, spoke their names, country of service and the number of years they spent fulfilling the mission of building infrastructure of developing countries on Veterans Day in Ashland.
As the Rogue Valley Peace Choir serenaded with verses of global harmony, including John Lennon’s immortal “Imagine,” Barbara Settles, chairwoman of the Rogue Valley Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, recalled a heroic time, when President John F. Kennedy founded the Corps, and “we left our own cultures and went to very unusual lands and cultures, learned the culture of peace, which is not simply the absence of war but rather a culture of listening, understanding, serving and caring.”
Settles, a Peace Corps vet of Afghanistan and the Philippines between 1989 and 1993, said serving and helping are not the same.
“Helping is doing something you think should be done, while serving is doing something that someone else needs and thinks should be done. ... We did the most with what we had for the most people, and there’s still much to be done.”
Past president of Rogue Valley Veterans for Peace (RVVP) and Vietnam War vet Dan Davis said Peace Corps vets should be honored along with warriors, as both have “suffered traumatic events” and worked for peace far from home.
In addition, Davis said, Veterans Day should be a time to think of “the trillions and trillions of dollars wasted, veterans traumatized and families left grieving” for those who were killed in America’s wars.
Former Jackson County Commissioner John Deason and his wife, Ginny, met while serving in Peace Corps from 1963 to 1965 in Colombia.
“It really brought us together and taught us a lot about other cultures,” John Deason said. “By knowing other people, you learn you don’t have to go to war but can learn how to get along.”
Ginny Deason added, “If you’re a citizen of the world, you learn all we have in common. We can’t continue hurting each other.”
Ashland Culture of Peace Commission Executive Director David Wick noted that the observance was the 100th anniversary to the day of the end of World War I. The so-called “war to end all wars” did not succeed in ending them for even one generation, Wick said.
Wick’s partner, Irene Kai, said the International Peace Flame that burns at the Pavilion has expanded its meaning to include honoring of Mother Earth and the fact that “everything is connected.”
Ashland innkeeper Deedie Runkle was the Peace Corps director in Belize from 1990 to 1994.
“I learned there is nothing to fear about peace, and I did things I could never have imagined myself doing,” she said. “I brought that fearlessness home to America with me.”
Runkle’s daughter, Lucy Runkle of San Francisco, served in the Peace Corps from 1991 to 1992 in Yemen. “I learned never to make assumptions about what others believe, based on what they look like and where they’re from,” Lucy Runkle said.
Art and Carol Lee Buck served together in Senegal and said they were treated “with respect and appreciation, just as people, not as Americans.”
“We tried to bring that back and try it here,” he said. “Peace is a human function, not a factor of what country you belong to,” Carol Lee Buck said.
The event was sponsored by the RVVP, the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission, the Southern Oregon Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Herb Rothschild.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.