He was a doctor's son, just out of college and life was good in Milwaukee. So he joined the Peace Corps and went to India.
"My mother couldn't believe it, my dad said nothing, and my brother says I've been screwed up ever since," says Bob Cary.
He went to the training program at St. John's College in Annapolis, studied and trained -- like the other new volunteers -- to raise poultry. The idea was to promote eggs as a good source of protein in the Indian diet.
"We didn't get a chicken to lay an egg for 15 months," Cary remembers.
Twenty years later, at 42, he is in the Navy -- "which is about 180 degrees out from being in the Peace Corps," a lieutenant commander in the medical service corps, stationed in Washington. About joining the Peace Corps, he says, "Personally -- and it's not an attempt to sound corny -- it was probably the best thing I could have done at that point."
Twenty years ago, 95 aspiring emissaries of peace and poultry gathered on the St. John's campus with a middle-class sense of themselves and a world-class sense of adventure.
This past weekend, they came back, some with children, most with cameras, changed but still bonded to their identity as the "India 16" -- the 16th group of Peace Corps volunteers to go to India.
In 1965, in a training program that reflected their practical needs in India as much as the Great Books philosophy of St. John's, they studied Hindi and other languages, read "A Passage to India" as well as Hobbes and "Huckleberry Finn." They built Indian-style chicken coops by the Severn River and wrestled with methods of killing chickens.
Saturday night, amid whoops of delight and shouts of recognition, they showed their slides. Immortalized on Kodachrome along with visions of Indian landscapes and bazaars are 20-year-old pictures of neatly coiffed young women and closely shorn young men grimacing and looking away as they grab the furry white birds upside down and wring their necks.
It was 1965, before the bitterness of Vietnam had sunk in, and a confluence of factors -- the time, the ideals, the mission -- made them unique. And they reveled in it. Ask now what they accomplished, and most begin by saying they're not sure; doubt about whether they changed India runs high. What they are sure of is that India changed them.
"Raising chickens was also a great vehicle for getting normal, straight, middle-class people into another culture," says Buzz Burza, 44.
And no matter what else they do, they will always be a group.
"You feel you belong . . . " says Jackie Benton Moore, 43, from Seattle. "It's such a diverse group, I don't know if the group would have flown if it was anything other than an intense experience."
They rarely see each other, but about a third of the 93 volunteers showed up for this reunion -- some with great determination. One rode a bus all night from Toronto to New York. A couple who met as volunteers and later married were vacationing in Florida and flew in. Another came from Nigeria.
"When they said they were planning this reunion for '85, I said, 'No matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, I'm coming,' " says Tondalaya Gillespie, 42, who lives in Lagos with her husband, the Africa director for the U.S. Feed Grains Council. "So I saved and I planned and here I am."
Says Pete Hargrove good-naturedly, "Individually, we're pretty average people, but as a group, we think we can do just about anything. Before this is over, someone will say we should do something as a group." He smiles.
"We're crazy about ourselves."
Pete Hargrove read "The Ugly American" at 15 in Grand Rapids, Mich., and was appalled. A few years later, he read about President Kennedy's Peace Corps program. "I said, 'Yeah, that's for me.' There was never any choice."
He graduated from Albion College and joined. "I picked India because it was far away. I thought if I'm going to have this adventure, I'm going to go all the way around."
When he got there, he was miserable, he was sick, and, at a husky 6 feet 3 inches, he was an oddity. "It's hard to get up in the morning, walk outside and have every kid stop what they were doing and turn and look at you and yell things at you," he says. "I was bigger than anyone they'd ever seen. Sometimes I'd use that in my work. I'd stand very close to someone if I was asking them to do something."
And he had problems with his egg campaign, too.
"Folks don't really consider eggs food," says Hargrove who was assigned to the village of Arang in the south central Indian state of Madhya. "Eggs are not very" -- he pauses, searching for the word -- "necessary. And during the hot season, they considered eggs a hot food. Food that would make you hot. That's a prejudice that we all worked hard to change, and I'm sure that we didn't make a dent." He chuckles. "It would be like a foreigner coming here and telling Americans they couldn't have ice cream in August."
After 18 months he spent two vacation weeks in Nepal. When he returned to India, he was walking around the bazaar, talking to people when, "All of a sudden, I thought, 'I really like India.' I guess I had worked through all my anger and frustration."
After the Peace Corps, he did graduate research in India and worked for several years in relief programs in Bangladesh.
Hargrove is 41 now, with curly dark hair and beard. He has been married six months to an Austrian and lives in Columbia, Md., working with a group that buys apartment complexes and sells partnerships in them.
"I feel like I helped the world and I'm going to do this for a while," he says with a smile. Besides, he adds, it's tough on a relationship: "It's hard to convince a woman you want something serious if you're running off to save the world. I had a couple of romances it killed: 'I love you, dear, but I have to run off and save India.' "
Like the others, Hargrove is ambivalent about what was accomplished. "We spend long hours talking about what impact we had when you can't quantify it. It's like talking about the wind. It's hard to explain but you know it's there." And he adds, "It forced me to look at people who have other ways of doing things and understand that. In this country, too."
Gone is his self-described naivete': "We were going to save the world, man. But then we got out there and found out Indians had no interest in being saved by some 21-year-old kid from Grand Rapids."
The group ties remain. He speaks of three woman volunteers who lived near his village in the city of Raipur. "We have a very special bond. I would trust them with anything," he says. Romance was never part of the bond, he adds, "Although one of them last night asked me why I never asked her to marry me." He smiles. "I think she was joking."
Volunteers say they were cautioned not to get too involved with each other or the country's residents. Louel and Pete Larkin met when they were volunteers. Six years later, in 1971, he visited her in Waterbury, Conn. "He looked good," Louel remembers. "I thought, 'We've grown up.' " They were married in 1972; Louel has to twist the gold wedding band off her finger to read the inscription to remember the exact date.
They live in Saudi Arabia with their three children -- an Indian girl and two Honduran boys they adopted. Pete Larkin is the psychologist at the school set up by Aramco for its employes' children. "The female part stays home," Louel says. "Talk about second-class citizens. I keep myself amused, I read a lot of Carl Jung . . . You figure after India the rest of the world is a snap."
After India, it was two years before she could eat chicken again. "We survived," she says. "I don't think I accomplished a lot . . . I would go out to the villages and give my little spiel on chickens and nothing would happen. Men would go out and give the same spiel and things would happen. Men don't listen to women. So after I got over my depression, I thought, 'Okay, scratch chickens. What can I do?' So, I thought, 'Children.' "
She worked with nursery school children who belonged to the Indian caste of "untouchables." At the river's edge, she introduced two children to bathing. "So there are two kids in India who like to take baths," she laughs. "Not earth-shattering."
They do different things now. Barbara Busse has been a social worker in Phoenix. Sondra Kinder Cunningham teaches Washington, D.C., history and civics at Taft Jr. High here. But whether they ever got a chicken to lay an egg or an Indian to cook with it, the experience stays with them. They go back to visit -- Tondalaya Gillespie, who lived in Asia for years, has been back 15 times.
"It's why I'm overseas today," says Pete Larkin.
A few, including Hargrove, U.N. official Lowell Flanders, and Health and Human Services special assistant Stanley Bendet, have worked at various times on relief or development programs in Bangladesh. Jim White, an organizer of the reunion, works on international development for Westinghouse in Columbia, Md.
Buzz Burza runs an offbeat Toronto weekly tabloid called NOW. "You know, it ain't easy," he says. "Idealism isn't a particularly viable concept -- in a monetary sense."
He got kicked out of the Peace Corps with four months to go. (It's a long story.) After returning to his hometown of Racine, Wis. -- "I had a fancy social worker job" -- he went back to Gwalior, the place in India where he was originally assigned with the Peace Corps. "I was a 'Buzzy' volunteer," he says. "I drank tea, rode around and talked to people." He smiles. "The same things I do now."
Perhaps none of the volunteers had more successful stays in India than Jim Bell and Sharlene Bell. Jim Bell runs his own ammunitions manufacturing company in Bensenville, Ill. They specialize in new and experimental small-arms ammunition. "I got interested in making cartridges in India," he says. "I bought a lot of lovely antique British-made rifles . . . I came back with the idea of making ammunition for them."
They talked about why they joined the Peace Corps:
"I wanted to do a lick for what was right," Jim Bell says.
"Plus we were tired of school, we wanted to travel," Sharlene Bell says.
They married on June 12, 1965, graduated from Southern Illinois University two days later, and were training at St. John's four days after that.
"The Peace Corps was our honeymoon," says Sharlene.
They were dispatched to the town of Drug, and Jim Bell found that despite his poultry training, his mechanical expertise was most in demand. "Basically, the Peace Corps was 'Go find your own job.' I found things that didn't work and made them work: X-ray machines, generator sets, well-drilling equipment." Bell carried pockets full of screws and when he found something that didn't work he often simply emptied his pockets to find the right one. When he found some malfunctioning UNICEF machinery and repaired it, UNICEF was so impressed that it sent him around India fixing machinery.
"I think we got a lot done," says Bell, 43, who adds later, "I'm sure we got more out of this than we gave."
His politics are conservative. "We're probably just a little to the right of Attila the Hun," he says as his wife laughs. "I don't believe in foreign aid -- not, 'Here's money. Go do your thing.' "
They just returned from Africa.
"We saw so much squandered waste in Africa," says Sharlene, 42, a former schoolteacher. "The food just doesn't get to the people."
Jim Bell politely disengages from most of the talk about what the group accomplished. "Talking about how we did it, how we could have done it better. I can't relate to that. I did the best job at the time."
When they retire at 50, they would consider going back again, possibly to Africa. In the next couple of years, they plan to send their 13- and 14-year-old sons to work during summers on a hunting reserve in Zimbabwe with a friend.
"I would not be ashamed to have them join the Peace Corps," says Jim Bell. He grins. "Hell, I'd go with 'em."