"The Communists—and Indonesia has the fourth-largest Communist party in the world—have subjected the Peace Corps to great pressure and harassment. They say it can be a War Corps, they say it is a tool of imperialism, of neocolonialism. Many Indonesians, because of Communist propaganda, think we're materialistic, corrupt, war-mongers, have no love of family, are irreligious. Put one man in a daerah and he will change every one of these things. Not by talking but by working with his hands.
"He will not be fighting Communism, per se. We have learned you can't export democracy, vis-�-vis. Or the American way. We don't want a boy to climb to the top of a palm tree, swing like a monkey and sing The Star-Spangled Banner. Never once will he have to preach about American government. His very presence there will speak.
"We don't want a zealot or a missionary," Rosandich tells the students and coaches he interviews. "We want someone with courage, drive, imagination, creativity and an adventuresome spirit. You become an open answer to the lies. You become the truth. We want them to say: 'That's an American. He can work with his hands. He can dig a track. He can build a hurdle.' Indonesians are eager. They crave knowledge. They don't take things for granted. If they feel you can help them, they're your friends. You will be able to help people who want to be helped. And they are a wonderful, generous, warm and understanding people. You will be treated like a king in most of the provinces. Indonesians have a saying: 'Gifts of gold can be repaid but hospitality you carry to the grave.' "
Rosandich warns the applicants, however, that it will "be a difficult job, at best. There is no equipment," he says, "no facilities, no organization, the food is different, the monsoon is a depressant, it's hot, the mosquitoes are big, there is dysentery and, most of all, there is the constant frustration. You sure you want to go into the boondocks? Here you can dope oft" in a class once in a while and catch up later. You dope off there once and you're hurting us. A bad coach for the U.S. in Asia is worse than no coach at all. But if a boy can coach in Indonesia for two years he can coach anywhere. Indonesians have long toes. Every morning I wonder whose toes I'll be stepping on today. It's no picnic."
But Indonesia was a picnic compared to the Kingdom of Laos, where Rosandich went for the State Department in 1957, the first of many assignments throughout Southeast Asia. "I went to that country to coach track," he recalls, "and they didn't have a track. They didn't even have a language. I was trying to teach shotputting, and I asked my interpreter what the word for shotput was. He picked the shot up and said, 'Nak lai.' I said nak lai for weeks before I found out what it really meant. It means 'very heavy.' I would have been a tremendous success in Laos if I had done nothing but go out and have strings tied around my wrists—which is the way the Laos express friendship, but I had to get my job done and no one would help me.
"I went to the commanding general of the army and pounded on his desk. I told him that if I didn't get anyone to help me I was going home. I told him I needed 75 men. The next morning there were 750 of his best paratroopers lined up in formation. The first thing I did was to teach them the Marine Corps marching song, Honey Babe, so I could move them from one place to another. The next thing I did was to go to an American administrator and ask him for some shovels so my men and I could build a track. He said he'd see what he could do about it. I went back the following day, and he handed me one broken, rusty shovel. I stormed out of there. My best man, Sergeant Tham, and I went out into the boondocks where there was an American warehouse. I picked up a rock to smash the lock, but Sergeant Tham shoved me aside, took out his .45 and blasted it off. Inside were thousands of new shovels in Cosmoline. I marched my men in and we borrowed shovels; they filled their baggy pants full of nails and hammers and stuff, and then I marched them right through the American compound up to this administrator's office. I said: 'Halt. Present shovels!'
"I managed to beg, borrow and mostly steal what I needed. I stole trucks from the French army. I stole a grader from an American construction crew. I stole gas. There was an endless supply of teak at a nearby lumber mill. I built the first hurdle in Laos. It was made of solid teak and weighed 85 pounds. If you hit it, I guarantee you'll never run again. The jungle supplied bamboo for pole vault poles. We dried the poles over a fire and straightened them out in the crotches of trees. We went out and built that track. We repainted the stadium and the classrooms. After three months we held the first national championships in the history of Laos—1,000 athletes, including girls. The guys who go to Indonesia will have to make up their minds that they'll be working with women, too. Women are more serious, as a rule, work harder, are more dedicated, but emotionally they're unstable. When they go to pieces, they really go to pieces."
We didn't have any uniforms for the championships," Rosandich says, "so the boys wound up wearing long underwear tops. But at least they were all the same and we could pin numbers on them. The biggest mistake was to hand out the track shoes the day before the meet. Vientiane is the capital of Laos but it doesn't have many sidewalks. Here's my whole team parading up and down the sidewalk in spikes. But we got 40,000 people out and let me tell you, it was great. Every time they ran down the track it was a new national record! Around the top of the stadium was one American flag for every Laotian flag. We even managed to sneak the Marine's Hymn in between the national anthems.
"We had all different, sometimes antagonistic tribes competing, but the only difference between those people was at the end of a race. Times were irrelevant. That's coaching pretty close to idealism, doing, in reality, in a backward, primitive country, what Avery Brundage would like to do. There is a tremendous satisfaction, reward in this. Maybe the hurdle does weigh 85 pounds, but it's still a hurdle. Working together, competing together, everyone had a good time. In Laos you can walk up to a boy, slap him on the back and say, 'C'mon, champ,' and he will be a champ. The same thing in Indonesia. You can bet your last dollar, or, in this case, rupiah, that you can take a boy right out of the jungle and he'll be representing Indonesia in the 1964 Olympics.
"Sport is very important to these people. Every cabinet minister in Indonesia is the head of some athletic association. All the Southeast Asian countries have ministers of sport. Sarawak, a British Crown colony where I coached, was invited to the Commonwealth Games in 1958. No one in the whole country had a chance of even qualifying. Do you think that deterred them from going to Cardiff? Walking down the track with a flag was a 55-second quarter miler [the world record then was 45.7] and a chef de mission. At least their nation was represented in front of the world.