AFS: working for peace, one student at a time

Current AFS exchange students were pleased to meet David Ford (center), former AFS ambulance driver during World War II.

The Heights High AFS Club recently welcomed David Ford, an American Field Service ambulance driver in World War II, to speak on the topic “Peace is More Than a Good Idea—AFS Past, Present and Future.” In addition to sharing his war experiences, Ford talked about the early years of the international exchange organization. Thirteen AFS exchange students who currently attend Brush, Shaker Heights, Solon and Cleveland Heights high schools, their host families, past exchange students, local AFS volunteers, and school administrators listened to Ford’s comments.

He described some of his experiences as an inexperienced 18-year-old volunteer ambulance driver, whose job it was to drive an ambulance truck near enemy territory, take care of the truck and make necessary repairs, provide basic aid to the wounded, load them onto the truck bed, and deliver them to medical posts for treatment.

One student asked Ford about the fear factor involved in his war work. In response, he recalled an incident in which he followed a corporal through ankle-deep mud and darkness to pick up wounded soldiers. Ford could see only the glow of the corporal’s lit cigarette to indicate the path to the wounded men. Suddenly, there were cannon blasts just a few yards away. He said “One skill everyone learned very quickly was to determine the difference between the sound of incoming and outgoing artillery. If you didn’t, you didn’t last long.”

Because they worked on active battlefields, AFS ambulance drivers suffered high casualties. Ford was never injured, which he credits solely to good luck. When asked if he would do it again, he responded without hesitation, “Yes.”
When he returned from war, Ford attended college and began a career in industrial sales, and actively supported the early years of AFS Intercultural Programs, which has become the leading international exchange organization for teens worldwide. As he explained, “AFS today is an organization that moves forward independently, without government funds and without political pressures, to lay the groundwork for world peace.”

American students Tori Guy, AFS returnee from Panama in 2008, and Janine Walker, returnee from Thailand in 2011, spoke about their experiences as exchange students. They both commented on their strong connections to their host families and how much they recommend the program to other students.  

“I can speak Spanish now and I was never a good student of Spanish in high school,” said Guy.  “I have more patience and tolerance for people who struggle to speak English because people were so patient with me when I [struggled to speak] Spanish.”

Walker said she enjoyed the big city life in Bangkok. She became fluent in Thai and recalled the surprised looks from Thais to hear an African-American girl speaking the local language. “I loved meeting people from around the world and helping people understand more about Americans than what they see on TV or in movies,” she added.

Local AFS organizations depend on volunteers to support exchange students and their host families, to find new host families, and to interview students embarking on AFS trips. For more information about joining, or donating to, Greater Cleveland East AFS, visit or e-mail Adrienne Yelsky at

Krista Hawthorne

Krista Hawthorne is an AFS volunteer and returnee from France '80.

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Volume 6, Issue 2, Posted 12:02 PM, 01.31.2013