Radios & the Reserves
Nam Files Episode 3
Episode detailing the logistics of the military system, training, and retirement during the life of San Domingo community leader, Newell Quinton.
Rihana Stevenson [00:00:02] Welcome to the final installment of the Nam Files, this episode details the experiences of Newell Quinton, a prominent member of the San Domingo Maryland community, located only a few minutes outside of Salisbury, who is dedicated to maintaining and revitalizing African-American culture and heritage on the Eastern Shore. Quinton states that he, and other people his age in the San Domingo community, were aware that they would likely have to serve either by Draft or choice, so many decided to make the conscious decision to join the military. He attended Morgan State an HBCU, or historically black college, in Baltimore and was in the ROTC program. From the start of his interview, Quinton mentions how he was influenced to join the military even before participating in ROTC at Morgan State.
As I mentioned in the previous episode, college enrollment soared up until 1972, which was the last draft year of the Vietnam War.
Newell Quinton [00:00:53] And so it was... I think subconsciously we knew that eventually we would be called upon to serve either being drafted or being college students, being in the ROTC program. But before that, I think our discussions - listening to our parents in terms of their experience during World War II, because our parents, of course, were in that great generation. My father served in the Army and everyone in my community, all the men, of course, had roughly served their time in the military. So as a young person, you know, you certainly were exposed to their experience being in World War Two. And even my great uncle was in World War One. So having the opportunity to go to Morgan State University and at that time, all freshmen and sophomores had to take ROTC. You were in the program for two years. I think I had a leaning toward it. I liked it. So I was able to go to the advanced ROTC program.
Rihana Stevenson [00:02:02] There are many notable similarities between Quinton’s and Basehart's reasons for joining. Quinton was also directly impacted by his father and community stories of serving in WWII. A fascinating point was that the freshmen and sophomores at Morgan State were required to be in the ROTC program for their first two years. After 1973, Morgan State and many other colleges around the nation made ROTC optional.
Here's Quinton explaining his progression after those two years.
Newell Quinton [00:02:29] 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...
Rihana Stevenson [00:02:47] Quinton graduated Morgan in 1966 and was sent to his first base later that year, following this, he mentions the integrity and honor that one felt from having served.
Newell Quinton [00:02:57] Formulation of events in my life that said, well, "maybe this is an opportunity for me" because 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, 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.
Rihana Stevenson [00:03:35] He describes the four bases that he traveled to for training, which was comparably more than the men from the last two episodes. Despite training in all these different places: Forts Gordon, Drum, Monmouth, and Bragg, Quinton was still able to develop specialization in his occupation.
Newell Quinton [00:03:51] We were all in the Signal school, which I thought was amazing. We learned an awful lot. We were taught about basis in communication and wire communications, telephone, mainly wire and telephone at the time at Fort Gordon, some radio field communications. And 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 of training. We learned radio communication with some very excellent instructors gave us the fundamentals of radio communication: FM, AM, single sideband, which is still - oh gee, I can still see those professors taking us through the basics and really getting us prepared for what they expected we would encounter once we were deployed to Vietnam. I mean, I left Fort Monmouth. Then next to the station was Fort Bragg, North Carolina and at Fort Bragg. You went into different units, I was assigned to the 13th Psychological Operations Battalion training at Fort Bragg and of course..at Fort Bragg, what we actually learned to do was to operate very large AM radio sets that 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 uh to sway their opinion. The same thing they were doing to us, we would be doing there.
Rihana Stevenson [00:05:42] His training in radio communications was very broad, and he was expected to learn all the nuances of the signal battalion. He recounts how this worked and how he and his fellow signal officers were considered “replacements”.
Newell Quinton [00:05:55] Interesting story at Fort Bragg. I had orders for Vietnam thinking that my unit would actually operate as AM broadcast station. Nevertheless, that didn't happen because once deployed, we were basically replacements for people on rotation. So upon arriving in Vietnam, which had been 1967 leaving Fort Bragg, I was assigned to the Signal Battalion, 4th Infantry Division.
Rihana Stevenson [00:06:29] A lot of this, he notes, was due to the organization of the military system. The reservist system was vastly different compared to that of [the] direct enlistment process. During his service, Quinton was moved from active duty to reservist, which meant Quinton was merely trained to be an asset but would not necessarily be sent out to mainstream service.
This is a result of downsizing in 1971, which corresponds with Nixon's endeavors to reduce the number of American soldiers in Vietnam. Quinton seemed to be the only one of the three men we discussed to have benefited from this as he became a government employee in the wake of the downsizing. Nixon's proposal to decrease foreign involvement was delayed for many years after his inauguration, yet in 1971, the process of Vietnamization began in order to relinquish duties to the South Vietnamese military and progressively decrease American involvement. A majority of the soldiers who were sent home were not given jobs within the federal government. Yet Quinton’s switch to being a reservist and training in other fields allowed him to work within various federal departments.
Despite all these changes, he speaks about how committed the men he worked with were, as well as the level of technicality that was required for the position he held.
Newell Quinton [00:07:38] I was.. my platoon was actually assigned to support the 173rd airborne in Dak Toh for the most of our time in Vietnam, which I think still to this day we did a reasonably good job. So we were committed to it. So I have great... I think I had a good crew. Yeah. Had high regard for those men that were there. And you build those relationships, I think, you know, and so upon leaving I rotated out of Vietnam, I was then went to Fort Monmouth to the career course. I was - I was planning to be career, all the way. And I went to this Fort Monmouth fortune in a career course, you know, before I went to Fort Drum, as in Fort Drum, New York as a posting officer. Fort Drum at that time was supporting the Army National Guard force 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 to 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 operating and techniques that the military was using. And it was like a graduate course in communications there at Fort [Mon]mouth, which I truly enjoy it. What happened after that - you had a big downsizing in the military. The administration was prepared to move out of Vietnam, leave Vietnam. So you had this downsizing of forces. And many of us and me included, as I said it at that point, I was applying to become a career, make the military my career, but with downsizing... I was into a reduction in force, so basically forced to leave the active duty. And that's when I was able to join the U.S. Army Reserve.
Rihana Stevenson [00:10:04] He doesn't mention much about friendships he made while in Vietnam, but does discuss the camaraderie and dedication to the work within the Signal Corps. He describes the conditions that did not necessarily allow him and his associates to truly branch out and interact outside of the base.
Newell Quinton [00:10:20] The environment, obviously, you're in the field, I mean, you're on cots, you're in tents, and it's like most other things through training, you learn to be as comfortable as you can be in that environment. I mean, it was dusty, rainy, hot, sweaty. But, you know, it's like through working with people, your mindset and skills and leadership, you don't focus on that part of it. You focus on what you're there to do and sort of time move us, moved relatively quickly, even during the worst of days. It was the being... Supporting each other, which was very important to know that we were going to get through this. I mean, it's critical to know that you build the team spirit, that we're going to make it OK by working with each other. You're not alone and you build that, that cohesiveness within the unit, within each other that no, that together we're going to do what we have to do and we'll be OK. I mean, it's not I mean, even I mean, there are some times where you realize, you know, we had some side activities just to try to ease your mind. I mean, there's times where the food is great. There's times where you eat and C-rations and each one of those things you have to use what you are given to maintain your mental focus and also to enjoy it. I mean, we would have a good time just dealing with C-rations at the end of knowing that, you know, there's a hot meal coming, but you just don't focus on the negative all the time. It's that team spirit that keeps you moving and that's very, very, very important for people in some bad situation to know how to depend on each other and that relationship. You build a team spirit.
Rihana Stevenson [00:12:47] When discussing the logistics of his training, he emphasizes just how much his position was relied on to maintain safety and communications in Vietnam. Quinton jokes how they were practically a telephone company for the soldiers traversing the jungle. He discusses the way his training and occupation gave him experiences he probably wouldn't have been exposed to outside of the military. Quinton being a signal officer and having such an important occupation echoes in both Basehart and Whaley's experiences. Whaley was able to choose his occupation, yet neither Basehart or Quinton discuss the way they were sent into their jobs. Basehart even switched commands multiple times due to other officers leaving, and Quinton found an occupation as a reservist by shifting his focus to logistics and proficiency. These experiences show how versatile occupations in the military were at the time. Quinton gives a neat perspective of his reservist duties, how he retired from the reserves and was able to transition to civilian life.
Newell Quinton [00:13:41] All right, well, when I retired from the Reserves I was still working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but now I retired from government service altogether. I do some hobby farming and keep busy in the community. I was tutoring some youth in the community for a while. I started to mainly work with my family and my spouse, working with youth in a church and community, which is very enjoyable.
Rihana Stevenson [00:14:15] Throughout my research, I found conflicting data on how well men adjusted to being home from the war. Some stats show as high as 85 percent of veterans were able to readjust to civilian life. All of the men's lives somewhat attest to this. Whaley and Basehart were able to use their experiences to help them teach and enter academia, and Quinton retired to work more closely with the black community.
However, it is important to take these statistics with a grain of salt. Although they said that 85 percent were able to adjust, Vietnam veterans faced prominent rates of PTSD. Sources state that although only 15 percent of veterans were formally diagnosed, up to 30 percent of veterans may have faced PTSD in their lifetimes.
From our pop culture shows us there seems to be more cases of PTSD found in Vietnam vets from the previous wars, yet the higher rates of these issues are most likely a result of more inclusive mental health analyzes accounting for trauma than was used previously. In general, Vietnam Veterans were more capable of blending back into society due to the way the war was addressed by civilians in the U.S., as there was not a lot of fanfare positivity from most citizens. Despite some veterans coming back to harsh criticisms, as Basehart noted in his own experiences, some veterans were able to return and get jobs based on their education or experience gained while in the war. Near the end of the interview, Quinton notes how, despite having a decent experience during his service, he acknowledges the varied experiences and perspectives of Vietnam veterans. He notes that being a part of the Army Reserves changed the structure of how he experienced the war.
Newell Quinton [00:15:45] I think all of us have a different - our own unique perspective. You know, it's interesting when I talk to people in the American Legion or other service organizations, you know, all of us came away with personal experiences and things that we think were good and things that we think were bad or things that were fair or unfair. It's good to hear, you know, their views on it. Mine particularly... I believe that it was very rewarding for me, both for maturity, for the things I learned and things that I can apply, the things that I saw that I didn't like as well. I mean, it wasn't all a bed of roses, but I mean, you had to learn how to make a decision and you had to learn how to deal with life.
Rihana Stevenson [00:16:40] Overall, Whaley, Basehart, and Quinton’s experiences allowed for contextualization of the common references of the Vietnam war that can be seen today. Through Whaley’s experiences it is easier to understand the repercussions of being a student drafted abruptly into the war. With Basehart and Quinton it is easier to understand the way families and communities can shape one’s dedication to serve.
In general, learning more about the logistics and training that these men went through creates more personal context for the things we learn in history classes or from pop culture. There was more insight for how the war operated as well as how these veterans felt their involvement shaped them.
Our understanding of the Vietnam war comes from those who survived the conflict. We will never understand or know the trials of those who died in service to their country as they are not here to share their stories. Because so many voices are missing from the narrative, it is important to listen to those that remain.
Although the men featured in this podcast may not have been a part of combat in the way that media typically portrays. Their occupations proved to be just as pivotal to the development of the conflict as those who were on the front lines.
Thank you all for listening and learning more about the Vietnam War with me. I hope this podcast broadened your knowledge and allowed you to discover more about the Veterans in the Eastern Shore region. Like previous episodes, you can listen to the full version of Newell Quinton’s interview via a link to the Nabb Research Center’s Internet Archive, which I will link below.
My name is Rihana Stevenson and thanks again for joining the Nam Files.
Original Oral History