My first contact with Arthur Howe, Jr. was two years ago, when I was an intern in the AFS Archives, and it is a very romantic story. I came across a letter from AFS volunteer Lester A. Collins to Colonel Richmond, who was serving in Italy with the AFS Central Mediterranean units, which contained an account of Art and Margaret (Peggy) Burke’s wedding on June 17, 1944. All the elements of a great romance were in the letter: the young couple who were finally reunited after nearly two years at war; the bride in a beautiful wedding dress; and the groom wearing a dress uniform, trying to maintain his composure but sweating under the great emotion. When I discovered that Art and Peggy were still together after reading the descriptive letter, I was amazed: they had been married for 70 years, practically a lifetime!
Two years after reading the letter I’m back in the AFS Archives to work on a project aimed at archiving and preserving Arthur Howe Jr.’s historic collection, thanks to the support of generous donors from around the world. You can imagine my enthusiasm when I opened the new boxes for the first time and found all the great items that he and his family had donated to the AFS Archives. At the same time, I realized how challenging the project was: those boxes contained more than 70 years of Art’s involvement with AFS, and what an eventful period that was!
Art was born on July 19, 1921 in Watertown, Connecticut, and after graduating early from the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, he spent a year at the Rugby School in England from 1938-1939 thanks to an English Speaking Union Fellowship. When World War II broke out in Europe, Art discovered that his classmates at Rugby were all enlisted in the
British Army. He also wanted to contribute in some way, but not with a gun. In his Oral History Project interview completed by the AFS Archives, he noted that AFS was a “wonderful compromise,” providing an opportunity to serve in a nonviolent manner. Art tried to enlist with AFS for the first time in 1941, but the organization was in a period of transition after the German occupation prevented their activities in France. After AFS realigned to work alongside the British Army, Art reapplied. At the age of 20 he went overseas and served as an AFS ambulance driver in the Middle East, North Africa, and in Italy, until he was medically discharged in December 1943. By the end of his service with AFS in World War II, Art was commissioned a Major in command of an entire company of around 120 ambulances and 200 men.
“Like all the actions of AFS, I came home with a burning desire to do what one could,” Art noted in the oral history interview. He served with the AFS for two years and upon returning home wanted to do anything in his power to promote peace. As seen in the trailer for the upcoming documentary The Drivers by Tracy Christian (Sandgrain Productions), Art was a key figure in the beginning of the AFS student exchange programs, helping and counseling the first participants and their host families. After being named a director of the student exchange programs in 1949, Art was appointed President of AFS in 1965. Following his resignation in 1971, he continued being involved in AFS, serving as a Life Trustee and a volunteer and participating in various committees, reunions, and events with his beloved Peggy.
The Arthur Howe Jr. Collection housed in the AFS Archives covers a long time span and includes a wide variety of materials, including documents, photographs, and artifacts. Not only will this project preserve the collection for posterity, it will also make the collection accessible for people around the world (stay tuned for future blog posts explaining how this will happen!) In the boxes there isn’t simply “old stuff”: there is the physical evidence of the impact one man can have on so many people and communities around the globe, and of the role one individual can play in building a more peaceful world.
This is the first in a series of posts by Elena Abou Mrad, the AFS Archives Fellow who will be preserving Arthur Howe, Jr.’s Collection under the supervision of the AFS Head Archivist and Historical Publications Editor at AFS Intercultural Programs.
Banner image: Arthur Howe, Jr. in Damascus, Syria, circa 1968. All photographs are courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs, and cannot be used outside the guidelines of United States Fair Use (17 U.S.C.,Section 107) without advance permission.