Join us as we talk with a select few Americans who in the 1960s heeded the call to serve by volunteering for Vietnam as civilian humanitarian aid workers.
In the 1960s, 416 young people traveled to Vietnam as volunteers with the IVS–International Voluntary Services. IVSrs, as they called themselves, worked in small teams and lived with the people in rural villages throughout South Vietnam. IVS volunteers brought US technical know-how to agriculture and infrastructure, building bridges, digging canals, helping with plant cultivation and animal husbandry. They taught school, delivered healthcare, and consulted with non-Vietnamese “Montangards” in remote mountain villages.
The US military saw the IVS as part of the larger effort to “win hearts and minds,” building goodwill among peasants who might otherwise be recruited to the Viet Cong’s struggle against the US-backed government of South Vietnam.
This official US support made the IVS a target. As the war escalated, the dangers faced by these youthful idealists did also. By the late 1960s, a large number of IVS volunteers in Vietnam began to see the US war effort as harmful to ordinary South Vietnamese villagers.
Joining us are two former IVSrs Richard Berliner and JanStephen Cavanaugh, who served in Vietnam during the war. JanStephen has recently published his memoir, A Bloodied Tapestry.
We also welcome Jill Hunting, whose brother, IVS volunteer Peter M. Hunting, died in an ambush in the Mekong Delta in 1965. Pete was the first US civilian killed in the war. Jill tells Pete’s story and that of her own grieving family in the moving saga, Finding Pete: Rediscovering the Brother I Lost in Vietnam.
The IVS was a private nonprofit with strong ties to the Christian Pacifist tradition of the Quakers, Mennonites, and Church of the Brethren. It flourished in the wake of World War II and the wild success of the Marshall Plan. President John F. Kennedy’s stirring call to service bolstered interest in the IVS’s mission to improve the lot of those suffering from poverty and war around the world.
The Vietnam War inspired the IVS to expand its operations to Southeast Asia. The humanitarian crisis unfolding there drew an intrepid few who sought to provide relief, support, and development assistance amidst the devastation of war.
We’ll talk with Richard, JanStephen, and Jill about their experiences during the Vietnam War and the impact those experiences had on the rest of their lives.
Safe to say, the war challenged the beliefs of those who served in the IVS and forced all to confront the grim reality of war’s destruction.
JanStephen, for one, still believes we can make the choice to let go of the injustice and ego that create war. He is still hopeful that together we can make the collective choice to turn our backs on war so we may progress and find greater meaning and compassion in our existence. This pursuit is what motivates Cavanaugh and inspired him to revisit this hell, so that we may finally experience the harmony that comes from humanity living in an age of peace.