I was the low man on the totem pole. All the work was "classified" since in those days there was a Commie behind every tree. Those were the days when computers lived in air-conditioned rooms on floors that floated on springs and if you needed a powerful one there were only a few in the entire country. We'd run stress analyses and thermal transients and I'd be the poor schlep who'd fly out to Barberton, Ohio, with a briefcase full of punch cards and then back the next day with a stack of green and white computer fanfold in the seat beside me. Once back in the office I would have to swear an oath that I had not taken my eyes off the stack even to take a pee at the back of the plane lest some Russkie might have photographed it with a wristwatch camera.
The Vietnam War was heating up and the morality of colonial powers imposing their will upon poor countries halfway around the world was being violently debated in the streets of American cities. No matter how I parsed it I couldn't escape the fact that the things I was designing weren't yachts, they were war machines. I pasted a peace decal on my rear bumper and came to the conclusion I had no choice but to quit the best job I'd ever had.
In the spring of 1969, at the age of 25, I made my decision. The idea of joining the Peace Corps had been floating around in the back of my conscience for a while. I'd been the beneficiary of immense good fortune. I'd been exempted from military service on a technicality (I'd had asthma as a child). I'd been given, almost free of charge, an education that no amount of mere money could buy. I'd found work that was both fascinating and lucrative. John Kennedy's words gnawed at me; "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It was time to do something for someone other than myself for a change.
When I got my letter of acceptance they told me I'd be going to a place called Iran. I literally had no idea where on earth it was and had to look it up in an atlas. The Peace Corps had a place on their application where you could request three potential countries of service. I had put down Malaysia, Jamaica and Fiji because I'd be close to the ocean. You could reject an offer and when another placement came up they'd send it to you. But in a way I figured that was against the spirit of volunteerism. If they needed me in a place called Iran, that's where I'd go.