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"There was no reward for people returning from Vietnam, especially in the Army." (Audio interview, 2:40)

   Leroy V. Quintana
Collection image
Portrait of Leroy Quintana, Lake Murray, CA [1986]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 101st Airborne Division
Service Location: Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Benning, Georgia; Vietnam
Rank: Specialist Four
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For Leroy Quintana, serving in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam at the height of U.S. involvement was a jumpstart to his education. After graduating from high school, he earned a living playing pool for a year, then attended the University of New Mexico for a year before dropping out. Drafted in 1967, Quintana did consider at one point--when he was posted at Ft. Lewis, Washington--fleeing across the border into Canada. But his mother had inculcated in him respect for military service, and he stayed on. In country, he kept a notebook of his experiences on five-man reconnaissance teams. Though he came to see many aspects of the war with skepticism and he was disappointed with the lack of recognition (and worse) for returning veterans, he did appreciate the sense of responsibility the Army had taught him. Quintana would become a published, award-winning poet who sometimes used his days in the service as inspiration for his work.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (94 min.)
»Photo Album  (1 photo)
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 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Rundown of his service locations; finished his obligation at Ft. Bragg, NC, where conditions were so bad that men were signing up for another tour of Vietnam just to get out of there; doing KP there; tension on the base; soldiers feeling unappreciated for their service in Vietnam. (01:45) Dropping out of college and waiting for the military to take him; tempted to go to Canada just before shipping out to Vietnam; his mother had taught him of the value of military service, and he didn't want to let her down; he had not been following the war at all and was ignorant of its controversies. (02:58) Tough drill sergeant had them take apart their beds, bring the parts outside and reassemble them; other drill sergeants who were combat veterans had the "500-yard stare;" one was hard on them but was crying the night they left for Vietnam. (02:32)
Flying to Vietnam through Yokohama; anticipating seeing the city, but never let out of the plane; arriving in Phan Rang; seeing wounded being sent back into the field from the hospital; vowing that would not happen to him; learning ways to get out combat: refusing and being sent to Long Binh Jail or given a bad conduct discharge; most guys stuck it out; compares high suicide numbers among troops in Iraq to low ones in Vietnam. (04:32) Toughness of Vietnamese people, who fought the French for years and lured them into a trap at Dien Bien Phu; U.S. underestimating the nature of an enemy hardened by decades of war; we had the technology, and they had the ingenuity to make traps and weapons with basic elements; we had too much technology. (02:26) Soldier's state of denial regarding death; ambush or being trapped always a possibility; story of a soldier killed as he was sleeping; dealing with stress. (06:10)
Morale among the troops; majority didn't know what they were getting into; to their credit they stuck it out when there didn't seem to be any clear objective; for the most part, they were very brave; a war of glory, allowing officers to pad their resumes and everyone be awarded medals for insignificant acts. (06:08) Military teaching responsibility; learning to have some respect for those doing ordinary work; meaning of selfless service. (03:02) 

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  October 26, 2011
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