Interview with Newell Quinton, 11 July 2018
About This Recording
Newell Quinton is a veteran of the US Army Signal Corps during the Vietnam War. He was raised in and currently helps preserve the San Domingo community in Wicomico County. In this interview, he describes his tour of service and the intricacies of his duties in Vietnam as well as his time in the US Army Reserves after his tour was complete.
Recording Date: August 9, 2023
Interviewer: Matthew Crosom Narrator: Newell Quinton Key words: Signal Corps, Vietnam, US Army Reserves, Communications, Careers Intro: Newell Quinton shares his experience as a member of the Signal Corps during the Vietnam war as well as his experience in the US Reserves following the downsizing in the Army towards the end of the war. (Interviewer and narrator chat idly for the first few seconds about the recorder. Interview begins at 00:19) Matthew Crosom: So, I want to thank you for doing this. I really appreciate that. I see we’ve filled out the biographical form and the veteran’s release form. Today is the 11th of July, 2018. My name is Matthew Crosom and I’m here with the Nabb History Center collecting an oral history of a Vietnam Veteran names Quinton Newell—I'm sorry, Newell Quinton. Newell is your first name; Quinton is your last name. Newell Quinton: Yes. Matthew: Ok, during this interview, how do you want me to refer to you? You do have military rank. Newell: Newell is fine. Matthew: Newell? Not Mr. Quinton? You held a military rank and deserve to be called that. Newell: That’s quite alright. Matthew: So, in some points in the interview, we talk about things that you and I have talked about before and you know I know about your experiences. For the point of this interview, we have to say those pieces again, because the people who will listen to this many years from not don’t know what I know. Ok. When we’re done, this will be archived here at the Nabb Center and with the Library of Congress. You know, at any time, you can say “I no longer want to do this,” and we’re done. If, at the end of this interview, you choose not to do this, I will immediately press delete and its gone. Newell: Alright. Matthew: Ok. You feel good? Newell: Sure! Fine. Matthew: So, Newell—there you go, I'll call you Newell—What was your motivation to join the military? Newell: Well, I think... people in my class and group, we were finishing high school, going on to college. I finished high school in 1962 and went on to Morgan State University from ‘62 to ‘66. During that period of time, of course, the Vietnam war was raging and, of course, the draft was certainly affecting everyone. So, it was, subconsciously, we knew that eventually called upon to serve either by being drafted or being in the ROTC program. Before that, I think our discussions listening to our parents and their experience during world war two, because our parents, of course, were in that great generation; my father served in the Army and everyone in my community, all the men roughly, served their time in the military. So, as a young person, you certainly were exposed to their experience being in world war two and even my great uncle was in world war one. So, before going to college, we heard their experiences being in the military and they were very proud of that; proud of having served, proud of the experiences they had being overseas and the relationships they formed. Subconsciously, that was there as something maybe to do. I think they also saw the military as a great opportunity for them to be recognized as men, to contribute to the community and to the country as it was at the time. I know my father did and certainly my uncle did, highlighting their experiences. Having the opportunity to go to Morgan State University at that time, all freshman and sophomores had to take ROTC. You were in the program for two years. I think, um, I had been leaning toward it, I liked it, so I was able to go to the advanced ROTC program and, from leaving Morgan, I was able to get a commission, I accepted a commission in 1966, into the Signal Corps, and at that time in September, I was on active duty. So, it was a formulation of events in my life that led to “maybe this is an opportunity for me.” You have to think, too, I don’t think there was any one thing that drew us to the military, it was always in the background. “Maybe this is a good thing to do. You serve your country and you do something significant; you’re recognized for having served.” All our community leaders, men particularly in the community, felt good about having served and so it was always on our mind. Even with Vietnam going on, many of us felt as, coming out of high school, eventually you’re going to be drafted or you serve in some capacity and that opportunity of going to school and getting a commission, still that we would eventually be in Vietnam, didn’t deter us, we still thought it would be the right thing to do. Matthew: Could you tell me about your military career like a timeline? Start with where you started and tall about where you went and the dates because the other part of my project will be matching up news information, not about you but about those same places. Newell: Sure, I'd be glad to. That was really, uh—it's still very fresh in my mind some 50 years later because I think I really have the greatest regard for the people who taught us and trained us even in the college arena at Morgan State University, the professors of military science and the Candry(?) there. I give them, really, total credit for preparing us for what they had experienced and telling us what we could expect. Accepting a commission, being on active duty and going into the military, and I was on Army ROTC so, again, I believe they did an excellent job of preparing us and teaching us. That was in 1964-’66 when I was in advanced ROTC. Upon graduation, my first assignment was to go to Fort Gordon, Georgia. Signal Center school in Augusta, Georgia, which, for me at the time, that was-- I tell kids in the community, “that was my first airplane ride.” I went to Friendship Airport, at the time, which is now BWI, but I think it was Piermont Airlines. (Chuckles) We left friendship and went to Augusta, Georgia, and I remember the airplane was props at the time. It went through a thunderstorm and you could see the lighting flashing through the propeller blades. (chuckling) I said, “Oh lord, what is this I'm into?” But that was my first airplane ride going into Augusta, Georgia-- Fort Gordon, Georgia, 1966 in September. I just remember my first airplane ride going into active duty. I tell them that story because it’s amazing what you experience through your military career if you make the best of it. So, we were all in the Signal school, which I thought was amazing. We learned an awful lot. We were taught about basis in communication a wire can make communications, telephone... mainly wire and telephone at Fort Gordon, at the time, some radio communications. After finishing basic officer training at Fort Gordon signal school, I went to radio officer training at Fort Monmouth which was, to me, a higher-level training. We learned radio communication with some very excellent instructors, gave us the fundamentals of radio communications: FM, AM, Signal Side Band, which is still—oh gee, I can still see the professors taking us through the basics and really getting us prepared for what to expect we would encounter if we were deployed to Vietnam. I didn’t know it at the time, but we all knew, eventually, we would be called to go to Vietnam but I think these instructors, having taught so many classes with the war going on, knew that that’s what we would be exposed to. They did an excellent job preparing us. Even Fort Monmouth as our-- I was (inaudible) to find a radio officer, that was the military occupation specialty at the time. I left Fort Monmouth, then next duty station was Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At Fort Bragg, you went into different units, so I was assigned to the 13th Psychological operations battalion and training at Fort Bragg. Of course, at Fort Bragg, what we actually learned to do was to operate very large AM radio sets. They would be trained for use in psychological operations— broadcasts to the enemy forces for what we were there doing and to convince them or give them our perception on what the United States Military was there for, or to sway their opinion. The same thing they were doing to us, we would do there. So, the biggest training at Fort Bragg was actually to learn a 50,000 watt am radio station that we were setting up training to use... um, interesting story. At Fort Bragg, I got orders for Vietnam thinking that my unit would actually operate this AM broadcast station. Nevertheless, it didn’t happen because once deployed, we were basically replacements for people on rotation. So, upon arriving in Vietnam, which would by 1967, leaving fort Bragg, I was assigned to the signal battalion, 4th infantry division. The equipment that we were trained with, it was two prototype units that went south, I went north with other replacements. They would simply rotate people on this rotation. I was in the 4th division up in the central highlands. Like any other signal officer, your duty assignments would be to rotate someone else that was in that unit. It was a learning experience. Interestingly enough, I don’t have any regrets for the thing I was exposed to. You know, you think about it differently now as you would then, but at that time, speaking for myself, you’re trying to do the very best job that you could knowing that, being in the signal corps, you were supporting a unit in combat that you really wanted to make sure that the communication systems were working, people in truly severe situations could contact whoever they needed to back to division headquarters to division artillery to what have you. That was our focus, being in the signal unit. You had radios, VHF, signal sideband communications, telephone communications within a small unit going back to headquarters, which was really our duty. My platoon was actually assigned to support the 173rd airborne in Dak Toh(?) for most of our time in Vietnam which, I think to this day, we did a reasonably good job. (Chuckles) We were committed to it, so, I think I had a good crew. Yeah, I had high regards for those men that were there. You build those relationships, I think. So, I give all credit to people who trained me first going through ROTC and through all of the different schools to prepare us for what to expect and they did an excellent job in that. So, upon leaving—rotating out of Vietnam, I then went to Fort Monmouth to the career course. I was planning to be a career all the way. I went to Fort Monmouth on a career course. First, I went to Fort Drum, New York, as a posting officer. Fort Drum, at that time was supporting the Army and National Guard forces as a large training site and I was there for a year as a signal officer but upon leaving Fort Drum, I was able to go onto the career course at Fort Monmouth and that was another experience of really getting into the physical—not the physical, but more the technical part of how equipment actually functions and operates and techniques that the military were using and it was like a graduate course in communications there at fort Monmouth, which I truly enjoyed. Upon leaving the career course at Fort Monmouth, I went to Aberdeen Proving ground at the Army Materiel System Analysis Agency and I worked with several engineers. My job at Aberdeen, really, was to get them what I thought was perspective of a signal unit from the Vietnam perspective in the field to engineers in the lab trying to perfect something else. So, that was also a very interesting assignment, working with the engineers. We travelled a couple times back to Germany to see 5th and 7th Corps, units in the field, to see if we were applying actual engineering techniques to improve what the units were using in the field. So, that’s what we hopped and all. At that time, the military was changing from—I should say, the political process in the country was President Johnson... it was during the early part of the Nixon administration and we were downsizing. Matthew: So, this is 1969 by now? Newell: 1971 or thereabouts. What happened is after that, you had big downsizing in the military, the administration was preparing to move out of Vietnam, leave Vietnam. So, you had this downsizing of forces and many of us, me included—as I said, at that point, I was planning a career—make the military my career. But with downsizing, I was into the reduction of forces and basically forced to leave the active duty and that’s when I was able to join the US Army Reserve. Matthew: What’s the difference between being in the reserve and being in the army? Newell: Well, you have the active component, and you have US Army reserve that maintain training the skills for discipline and specialties in the event that you want to increase your force strength, which is quite import when you look at the force structure of the military. You have the active component, the reserve component, and the National Guard. National Guard, of course, are under state control unless they’re activated, but the reserve components is there to expand the capabilities-- (notification tone) that’s my cellphone, sorry—in the event that you need additional forces to fill out an active component or to serve in a role if the active component in another location is deployed elsewhere, you have people in your reserve structure that are trained and able to perform that service. So, that’s what happened to many of us in 1971 with downsizing, we moved into the reserve component and we continued our military affiliation. But you had many people who might be trained but spend their time in the reserve component as opposed to being on active duty. Matthew: So, as a reservist, you were not fully—not full-time employed with the military? You did something else, right? Newell: I worked for the US Government. Matthew: You worked for the government? Newell: Yes, I worked for the government at the time in many different capacities. Matter of fact, the first civilian job I had was right there at Aberdeen Proving Ground, then I transferred to National Institute of Health, then from there went to the Executive Office of the President in Office Administration, then from there to the department of Veteran Affairs where I eventually retired from the department of Veteran Affairs. But all the time, I was still affiliated with US Army Reserves. Matthew: Wow, that’s exciting. So, what would you say were your most positive experiences with the military? Newell: I think the military gives you an amazing opportunity to learn different... um—Just amazing the different skills you can acquire. I encourage people all the time to use the opportunity given to them that you probably would not see in any other capacity because you’re doing so many different things, you can acquire so many different skills and disciplines and then decide which way you want to channel your energy in having this opportunity. I think that’s what happened to me. As a commissioned officer, I learned to deal a lot with management issues and leadership skills which we were trained at, and simply working with people; knowing how to work as an analyst, or management analyst or systems analyst to solve problems. I don’t think you get that exposure in such a short period of time other that what we did in the military. I mean, it’s amazing the different scenarios coming at you with a lot of different skill sets that you are—equipment, opportunities, and circumstances that you are simply exposed to. If you take advantage of it, you can acquire untold skills and expertise that would take you a lot more time in other environments. You just are exposed to so much. Matthew: If you could go back and talk to 18-year-old you, what would you tell him? Newell: The one’s that I do talk to, I simply say, “The military is not for everyone. The things you might see on TV is not what you want to focus on, you want to focus on, ‘Do you really want to serve? What’s your motivation for serving?’ and to think in terms of what you can learn.” Everything that is available from a business perspective, you will see that occurring on the military side of the house. So, if the opportunities are presented from a military perspective, it’s not it’s there for combat per se, you still are learning and training in an opportunity that you still can take advantage of and develop your skills in education and still apply it later in life. So, I find that to be another avenue for a lot of 18-year-olds that might not be able to afford four-year college or an academic environment but still can apply themselves and have a successful career and consider another avenue. It may not be for everyone, but it should not be discounted because it does allow you to do things that you may not have ever been exposed to. You don’t have to—it's not a once-in-alifetime decision, it’s a question of “try it, and see if it fits;” If it doesn’t fit, you can always do something else but, gee, give it a try to see if you’re learning, if you’re acquiring skills that you can apply somewhere else. I also encourage people all the time, “The skills that you are learning can be applied elsewhere, you know. Once you leave the military, you don’t have to stay in it for 20 years, 30 years, you can be there for 4 years but you can be exposed to an awful lot of information and knowledge that you can use to develop a whole career elsewhere. So, a terrific opportunity to give you the discipline, the development, the professionalism that you may not have otherwise. I really think a lot of—in my experience, a lot of young men and young women too, before I left active duty, were acquiring great skills to use in life that they may not have acquired elsewhere just by the relationships with people and the things they were doing, and it’s just a matter of—the same skillsets can be used over out of uniform that you acquired in uniform and it’s not hard to teach people that. They just need to be exposed to that and try it. So, I think that’s quite important that I would say to an 18-year-old. Matthew: When you were actually in Vietnam, what were the conditions like? You had a— you worked someplace? What sort of equipment did you use? Newell: Well, of course, for me, I was in signal corps. I was in the field most of the time. We had multi-channel radio sets, single-sideband for vehicles and ¾ ton trucks, the multi-channel sensor on 2 ½ ton trucks. The environment, obviously, you’re in the field. You’re on cots, in tents, and it’s like most other things—in training, you learn to be as comfortable as you can be in that environment. For my unit, I think we focused on the job that we were there to do, without a doubt, and we felt very proficient in what we were doing supporting a combat unit and that battalion headquarters or that brigade headquarters and so, your time was occupied by maintaining equipment and supporting the people you were there to support. I mean, it was dusty, rainy, hot, sweaty, but... it’s like, through working with people, your mindset and skills in leadership, you don’t focus on that part of it; you focus on what you’re there to do. So, time, for us, moved relatively quickly, even during the worst of days. It was the supporting each other, which was very important, to know that we were going to get through this. It’s critical to know that you build the team spirit that we’re going to make it ok, work with each other, and you’re not alone. That cohesiveness within the unit, within each other, to know that together we’re going to do what we have to do and we’re going to be ok. It’s not... I mean, there are some times where you relax. You had some side activities to ease your mind. There’re times where the food is great, there’s times where you’re eating c-rations and each one of those things you have to use what you are given to maintain your mental focus and learn to enjoy it. I mean, we would have a good time dealing with c-rations (chuckles), you know? Knowing there’s a hot meal coming. You just don’t focus on the negative all the time. It’s that team spirit that keeps you moving and that’s very important for people in a bad situation to know they can depend on each other and that relationship. You build that team spirit. Matthew: So, let me understand the players on the team here: So, there’s a person with the combat unit that has some sort of radio device that radios to you and you connect it with regional command? Newell: Well, we were—what I was doing, let me say it was like a “hub” that we were the connecting link between the actual combat element coming back to a headquarters that’s then communicating to a division headquarters. So, we were in supposition with what’s referred to as a brigade headquarters, a battalion headquarters, but out in the actual field, there’s some combat elements there doing some fighting and they had the tactical equipment that would be coming back to our hub and we would have to give them the communications support or the radio support to go back into a division area for whatever support or equipment that they need. That support may be communicating to division artillery, it may be for logistics, it may be administrative or it could be anything. So, that’s why I say it’s a multi-channel communication because it’s basically telephone equipment or it could be a singlesideband radio equipment which, at that time, would be teletype sending messages or it could have been FM radios, just a “walkie-talkie”. So, you have a combination of things that the signal battalion is supporting to a combat unit. So, it was kind of—we were like the AT&T or the telephone company for this significant force in the field for any type of communication they might need whether it’s, at that time, ticker-tape, radios, telephone, you name it. If you were talking to somebody, we were that vehicle that allowed you to get back there. Microwave, all of the above. Matthew: So, for those service people in the field on radios, it’s 1968, 1967, those radios don’t transmit very far, do they? Newell: Nope. Matthew: Things are different now. So, how far away are those guys? Newell: Uh, it varies. You could be... a few clicks, a couple miles or less? When you get into the multi-channel communication, you’re talking thirty miles because you’re talking out of sight. If you’re in the right location and we’re using a VHF communication microwave, as far as that signal is going to travel and you might be 30-40 miles away. Matthew: I read about signals that are bounced in the air to be bounced back down. Newell: Sure, bounced off the ionosphere. Optical gain, and thank the Lord for it! (chuckles) Yes! Matthew: A program called “Back Porch”, that was the idea of this cluster of communications. Newell: Sure. Often times, you’re in a location where you cannot see. I mean, these things are supposed to be designed for line-of-sight. Line-of-sight, you’re looking at one antenna looking and another one. Well, there might be something in the way so you’re actually adjusting your antenna to get that optical gain, to bounce it off the ionosphere, and bounce it off another obstacle; it might be a mountain top or it might be something so that signal basically bends with the curvature of the earth to travel a greater distance. Been there and done that many times. Once you’re set up, it’s a matter of “bring up the signal” and you’re adjusting the antenna. You had an azimuth of where you’re supposed to be aiming at, but then it might be fuzzy and might not be clear, so you make some adjustments and this is just training and it’s not something you learn in the classroom, it’s something you apply after instructions they have given you. All the tools, you’ve got to put the tools together and say, “look, what’s in your tool kit?” You know, you’re out there, start using your tools. You start bending that antenna, circling a bit, and you’ve got guys on what we call the “Kiem (?) lines” says, “look, what does this sound like?” At that point in time, you don’t have days to get this thing right. We’re talking a few minutes to a few hours, “let’s get it right! People are depending on us to, you know, get them into communications.” Optical gain is real. It’s-- once you have that signal coming in from multi-channels or line-of-sight, you’re tied down (Chuckling) That’s it! Nail it down! So, anyway, you take me back to some (Laughing) but it was fun, when it comes in. Matthew: When did you know it was time to be done? What was the end—so, you ended your active duty service with the downsizing in force after President Nixon was reelected. I know he campaigned on the idea “I’m going to get out of Vietnam.” Then you entered the reserves. When did you know it was time to be done with the reserves? Newell: Um... I had been in the reserve units training and doing different things to maintain our proficiency. Matter of fact, in the reserve I did mostly logistics rather than communication because I was the unit, I was closest to when I was living in Baltimore, I was the 5/10th field depot and the 2/75th supply and service battalion, it was logistical units which was very enjoyable. So, again, it’s the opportunity to learn a lot of different skills. So, there, you’re looking at the—what's closest to—industrial complex, supplies and equipment and moving and supplying different units. So, for 20 years in the reserves, I really was the logistical units. As you advance in your grade, the opportunities, they’re there but they become fewer and fewer as your advancing grade and that’s what I felt was happening to me. As I was promoted to Major, I was signal officer of—again, I joined in as a Lieutenant-Colonel, I was fortunate to become a battalion commander, which, again, gave me a great opportunity to work with people and be exposed to a lot of different things from a manager standpoint. But, then, after the battalion assignment, you get promoted to a colonel and then you move into a stagnant position. At that point in time, the things that I was doing, I felt it really wasn’t beneficial to me or enjoyable. I didn’t feel that I was contributing in the way that I wanted to, and I said, “Well, it’s probably time for me to retire, not continue in the reserves.” That’s what I did in 1991 and, you know, family was changing, my whole civilian job was changing, and I said, “It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot, been exposed to a lot,” and I was not in a unit, per se, I was in the reserve on individual assignments taking different jobs, and I didn’t find that as being as rewarding as being in a reserve unit where you knew you were training to do a specific function. Matthew: Now that you’re fully retired from the reserves, what do you do? Newell: Oh, well, when I retired from the reserves, I was still working for the Department of Veteran Affairs, but when I retired from government service all together, I did some hobby-farming and would keep busy in the community. I was tutoring some youth in the community for a while. I mainly work with my family and my spouse in working with the church and the community, which is very enjoyable. I do little hobby-things with animals and gardening and available for tutoring for kids who might be pursuing higher education or just plain-old high school training, which is good. Matthew: Some of your children have been in the military as well? Newell: No. I have a daughter and son and neither one of those went into the military route. It was not their leaning. We talked a lot about it, particularly my son. I said the same thing to him as I say to other youths, “It’s not for everyone. If it’s not your cup of tea, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a great opportunity.” The period of time in our country when I was born, the military was regarded as an avanue to achieve or acquire different lifestyles. I don’t know if it’s still held in the same regard today with the all-vollunteer force and the way people tend to see their training opportunites or the development vehicle that it gave a lot of people when I was 20 years old. I think that’s significant. I highlight that a lot ot young people that going into the military, you acquire so many skills for life that it’s hard to imagine just not to learn to fight but to learn to mature, to make decisions, to learn how to manage your own personal resources, to focus on your things in life; it was that environment that gave us all the tools that we use today. So, for a young person, I said, “That might be something that you might need to consider because it enables you to just move forward in life. Not that you’re going to be a career soldier or a career sailor or what have you, but it’s those life skills that you get from that environment that could be very beneficial for you.” Matthew: Do you think that, through you here at the Nabb Center, we might be able to find other people who served in the military in the Vietnam Era to do this same sort of Oral History project? Do you know other men and women here in the Salisbury area that could be resources for that? Newell: I think so. I think—yes. To answer your question in short form, yes. I think all of us have our own unique perspective, you know? It’s interesting. When I talk to people in the American Legion or other service organizations, all of us came away with personal experiences and things that we think were good and things we think were bad or things that were fair or unfair. It’s good to hear their views on it. Mine, particularly, I believe it was very rewarding for me both in maturity, for the things I learned and can apply, for the things I saw that I didn’t like as well; I mean, it wasn’t all a bed of roses but you had to learn how to make a decision and you had to learn how to deal with life. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, per se, but that’s the facts that you’re dealing with. I think most other people, in their perspective, would have to say the same thing. It gives you a lot of tools, a lot of vehicles that you simply know how to bring together and, uh, I see many people who wrestle with things and I think, “Why are they having such difficulty with that? Why can’t we move on? Why can’t we bring things to closure?” Without some exposure or some training, people do wrestle with everyday things in life that, if you have some other tools to fall back on, it should enable them to move forward. So, I think talking to people with different perspectives, different careers, we’d be good to hear from somebody else. None of us have all the answers and I find that, also in my military experience, if somebody brings something to the situation from their perspective that helps us make a better decision, I'm totally convinced that individual decisions are not necessarily in the best interest of any of us. We tend to make better decisions by discussing it with each other and taking different perspectives and then coming together with a course of action. Whether you do it at the supper table at home or talking with your spouse or anybody, say, “Gee, I never thought about that.” It’s that information that’s formed by someone else’s experience or what they learned. It helps make better decisions. Sometimes you have to back up and look at yourself and say, “gee (chuckles) am I really coming across that way?” So, you know, you have to adjust. Matthew: well, Newell, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this oral interview. This has been a fantastic experience. We’ve heard about your experience in-country in the signal corps in Vietnam-- (Cutoff) (AUDIO ENDS)