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Peace Corps author talks at library

Article Published: Aug. 5, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Peace Corps author talks at library

Terry Sack: Teacher, world traveler, author.

He's a footnote to history, and he'll tell you all about it Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Watauga County Library as he talks about his book, "A Peace Corps Memoir, Answering JFK's Call."

"I was at the University of Michigan as a student in 1960 when JFK was campaigning for president," he said.

That JFK? That's John F. Kennedy, of course, famed "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" president, whose accolades include creating the Peace Corps.

It was at UM all those years ago where Kennedy made an unexpected three-minute speech.
"In it, he first mentioned the idea of the Peace Corps," Sack said. "He challenged people to spend time overseas."

And Sack was captivated.

"Three or four people at that speech became volunteers," he said, and Sack was one of them, solidifying his "footnote" status.

After graduating, applying and being accepted, Sack hit training in Washington and Puerto Rico before being shipped off to Bolivia, experiences he chronicles in his memoir.

The psychology major was selected to work with a public health group in a secluded area, "accessed only by a three- or four-day river trip ... or an airplane."

The Amazon jungle was more than intriguing, it was dangerous, carrying malaria and "a whole host of other tropical parasites" people in America typically only read about.

"So a doctor came through, giving us booster shots," he said.

To get one such booster shot, Sack and a handful of volunteers had to take a small plane to another village. On the way back, a storm made it impossible for the plane to land at its destination, forcing it to detour to a small naval strip along a big river.

"While we were there, this kid came out of the jungle ... he had been shot in the back and had been walking three or four days in the jungle," Sack said.

The child, fully attired in native jungle wear, had a collapsed lung, and there was no medical help, so Sack's team decided to take the boy with them.

When they returned to the village where they were stationed, the boy was transported via motorcycle to a hospital and Sack and the rest of the volunteers had a peculiar greeting.

"Nobody knew where we were. They thought our plane had gone down," he said, prompting media reports about the "poor young fallen Peace Corps volunteers."

"When we got back to town ... we were stopped on the street, people saying we were the living dead," he said.

And that's just one of his stories. Bolivia was a life changing experience for Sack, who acclimated so much that he even had a Bolivian girlfriend.

"It changed my life," he said, so much so that he wanted to document his experiences for his grandchildren.

That's how the memoir initially came about. It grew from just a recollection of thoughts, however, and into a glimpse of a world that has since vanished.

"I've been back to these parts and places of the world," he said, "and now everywhere you go, there's cell phones and Internet service, in the remotest places. It's amazing. So I'm also writing about a world that's gone."

He hopes his book will also inspire others to heed the call, just as JFK's speech did for him so many years ago.

"It probably still takes a special kind of person who's kind of a risk taker ... to get you out of your own culture and your own environment, very often trying to operate in another language," he said. "But most of the people I know who've been, it's the highlight of their life."

Both Sack and copies of his book will be on hand at the Watauga County Library (140 Queen St. in Boone) from 1-2 p.m. Saturday. Additionally, "A Peace Corps Memoir: Answering JFK's Call" is also available at the Appalachian State University Book Store and Black Bear Books. Sack received his doctorate at Perdue University and works in mental health counseling at Appalachian State University.

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