Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation

Speeches Former Ambassadors

Remarks by Ambassador R. Niels Marquardt
John Fitzgerald Kennedy: Bronze Bust Unveiling

Visit of Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter

On the U.S. Embassy Grounds
Thursday, June 21, 2007, 9:00 – 10:00

Your Excellency Minister of State, Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter and Mrs. Nancy Tschetter, Your Excellencies Ministers, the Government Delegate of Yaounde, Your Excellencies Ambassadors, Peace Corps staff and volunteers, colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you all for joining us here at the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde on this historic occasion, the unveiling of a bronze bust of late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  I would like to express my deep appreciation for the presence of such a distinguished delegation from the Government of Cameroon, led by His Excellency Minister of State Bello Bouba.  You honor us greatly with your presence here today. 

This event started as a suggestion from former Cameroon Peace Corps Country Director Robert Strauss.  In our first meeting, in 2004, he pointed out that Yaounde’s best-known street, Avenue Kennedy, would be a wonderful location for some sort of memorial to President John F. Kennedy, or JFK as he is affectionately known, in his role as founder of the Peace Corps.

Both Robert and I are returned Peace Corps volunteers from the late 1970s – he in Liberia and I in Rwanda -- and the idea really resonated with us both.  Although two years passed, the idea remained alive.  The challenge was to find the right artist, to raise the necessary funds, and to see what the municipal government thought.

Early this year, everything came together.  My friend the Ambassador of the Order of Malta, who is here today, introduced me to a fine Bamoun sculptor named Abdou Tapon, who is also here and who agreed to take on the project.  We started a fundraising drive that eventually bore fruit, as major American companies in Cameroon, among others, contributed to the effort.  We then went to Avenue Kennedy with the Mayor of Yaounde, Government Delegate Gilbert Tsimi Evouna, and his staff.  They liked the idea and informed me that it fit into their ongoing rehabilitation plans for Avenue Kennedy, as part of the urban renewal of Yaounde, which are currently underway. 

I would like to say thank you to Government Delegate Tsimi Evouna for his support, and I’m sure we will have the occasion in a few moments to applaud the artist for his work. 

And I would also like to thank our many corporate donors for making this project possible.  It is among several major projects to be completed over the coming weeks to mark the 50th anniversary of the official American presence in Cameroon, which began in 1957.

Of course, the other element driving this ceremony is the visit of Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter.  Ron Tschetter is another returned volunteer, having served in India in the late 1960s.  Of the 17 Directors Peace Corps has had since Sargeant Shriver, JFK’s borther-in-law, launched the agency in 1961, Ron Tschetter is only the third to have served previously as a volunteer, but he is the first and the only one to have done so with his wife, who was also a volunteer.  Mrs. Nancy Tschetter is with us here today. I am delighted that Director and Mrs. Tschetter both accepted my invitation to visit Cameroon before we leave next month.  Adding to the historic aspect of this ceremony is the fact that this is the first visit to Cameroon of a Director of the Peace Corps in over 20 years.  Again, welcome to both of you, and to your staff, including Africa Regional Director Henry McKoy, who is back for a third visit. 

It is the presence of Director and Mrs. Tschetter in Yaounde today that set the date for this ceremony.  Another ceremony will follow by the end of the year, to take place on Avenue Kennedy itself, once the site is ready to receive its permanent new resident. 

With Director Tschetter’s visit and today’s ceremony, we also commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Peace Corps’ uninterrupted presence in Cameroon.  This record of continuous, unbroken presence since the very first volunteers arrived in Cameroon, in September 1962 is matched in only two other countries on earth.  This fact makes the Cameroon Peace Corps program very special indeed.

These anecdotes explain the evolution of this project and of the ceremony today, but they do not adequately explain why such a monument is important or necessary.  I speak now very much as a product of my age, as a member of the generation that first began to acquire its social and political consciousness during JFK’s presidency.  My first political memories are all of events bearing JFK’s name and signature, some good and some bad:  the election campaign of 1960, including the first televised presidential debates in American history; the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which increased the frequency of the so-called “duck-and-cover” drills performed in schools across America at that time and which were highly emblematic of the grave dangers of the Cold War; the early beginnings of our fateful involvement in Vietnam; the solemn challenge of being the first country to reach the moon; and the President’s famous call to service in his inaugural address.  Few words have had a more lasting impact than JFK exhorting an entire nation to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask rather what you can do for your country.”

Just six weeks after his inauguration, in an effort to give concrete reality to his famous call to action, President Kennedy announced on March 1, 1961, a bold new initiative:  the creation of what he chose to call the Peace Corps.   He was not the first to propose such a service – others in the House and the Senate had introduced legislation doing just that – but it was his leadership and his commitment that saw this idea through to realization.  That the Peace Corps has stood the test of time, that it has prospered in both Republican and Democratic administrations, that it is now well into its fifth decade despite enormous geopolitical changes along the way, all bear testimony to the broad and bipartisan support this institution enjoys among virtually all Americans. 

Still, Americans and foreigners alike will always associate the Peace Corps with JFK, and vice versa … and for just cause: there would have been no Peace Corps without John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  

The Peace Corps initiative, and the hope it represented for mutual understanding and peace across cultures and nations, obviously captured my heart and my imagination -- as well as that of many others.  As a returned volunteer, I am in elite company – since 1961, almost 190,000 fellow Americans have also served as volunteers in some 140 countries around the world.  Of these, over 2,900 have served in Cameroon during the past 45 years, forming the core of an interest group – the so-called “friends of Cameroon” – who continue to work hard to advance the bilateral relationship.  This group joined our corporate sponsors to help finance this bust.

In my three years in Cameroon, I have often heard testimony and seen evidence of the profound impact of these 3,000 Peace Corps volunteers.  It is as if these 3,000 people managed to touch the lives of every single Cameroonian!  I say this because the Cameroonian who does not have a personal story to tell about the impact of the Peace Corps on his or her life is indeed the exception.

But the reverse is also true, and even more so:  Cameroon and its people have had a profound impact on all volunteers who served here. Through the volunteers’ personal experience of service Cameroon has become a household name to their families, their friends, and to America.  Here let me invoke the memory of the recently deceased economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who served as JFK’s very distinguished Ambassador to India.  I recall reading in his memoirs the account of his meeting with Prime Minister Nehru at which Ambassador Galbraith first proposed a Peace Corps program in India.  Nehru was receptive, obviously, as volunteers like Ron and Nancy Tschetter can attest.  But, in response to Galbraith’s assertion that volunteers could contribute to changing India, Nehru said wryly that he hoped we would not be too disappointed if instead it was the volunteers themselves who would emerge changed from the experience. I think he was right on the mark on that one.    

I want to say that this very much has been the case here in Cameroon, and that the benefits of the Peace Corps definitely flow back to the United States and to our people.  For that I would like to say thank you, Mr. Minister of State.  I also want to thank you and all Cameroonians for the warm welcome your wonderful country has always given our volunteers, and for all they have learned during their service here.

Before closing, I should also highlight the very special relationship that President Kennedy enjoyed with Africa.  He served in the United States Senate as Africa came of age in the late 50s.  In that role, he was one of the first American political leaders to recognize the significance of the emerging free nations of Africa.  JFK had the courage to be the first American Senator to stand up for independence for Algeria.  He welcomed the entire Continent’s march toward independence and the end of the colonial era as both inevitable and desirable.  He insisted on the creation of an Africa Sub-Committee in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and served as its first Chairman.  He welcomed countless African leaders to Washington, and he chided the State Department into vastly increasing its presence – our presence – in Africa.  It was indeed under pressure from Senator Kennedy that we opened our first consulate in Yaounde on July 5, 1957, exactly fifty years ago in two weeks.  And, in his famous public launch of the Peace Corps idea in an impromptu speech at 2 a.m. on October 14, 1960 before an enthusiastic throng of 10,000 University of Michigan students, Senator Kennedy challenged our nation to abandon the comforts of America …. to serve in Ghana.  Less than one year later, Ghana became the first country on earth to welcome a Peace Corps program. 

In my opinion, the idea he launched on that fateful day has done more than any other American initiative to promote peace, mutual understanding, mutual respect, and social and economic development around the world, and perhaps most especially in Africa.  So we stand here today in Yaounde, Cameroon, just a few short weeks after President Kennedy’s 90th birthday, to honor this leader and his bold vision with a fitting monument that will serve as a lasting reminder of his lasting contributions.  Thank you again for presence here today, and for your attention.

I would now like to invite to the podium Mr. Peter Briger, President of Hydromine Inc.  Hydromine was one of several firms which contributed importantly to this project, along with AES-SONEL, COTCO, and others which will be duly recognized at our July 4 celebration.  Again, we are most grateful to all contributors for their collective generosity.  But the particular reason for inviting Mr. Briger to speak is that he began his long career as a member of the Kennedy administration.  Please join me in welcoming Mr. Peter Briger….

Thank you, Mr. Briger.  It is now my pleasure to invite the Director of the U.S. Peace Corps, The Honorable Ron Tschetter, to deliver his remarks.

Thank you, Director Tschetter.  It is now my great honor and privilege to introduce and to welcome to the podium His Excellency Minister of State Bello Bouba Maigari.  Your Excellency…..