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Interview with Leroy V. Quintana [10/1/2004]

Roger Olson:

Today is Friday, October 1st, 2004, and this is the beginning of an interview with Leroy Quintana. We are conducting this interview at the San Diego Mesa College Learning Resource Center. Mr. Quintana is a professor of English at San Diego Mesa College. He's also a highly respected writer best known for his poetry. Mr. Quintana is 60 years of age, having been born on June 10th, 1944. He currently resides in San Diego, California. My name is Roger Olson. I am a librarian at San Diego Mesa College. Leroy, please state for the recording what war and branch of the service you served in, what was your rank, and where did you serve?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Okay. I was in the United States Army from 1967 to approximately 1969. Yes, yes, 1969. I went to basic training in Fort Bliss, Texas; advanced infantry training in Fort Gordon, Georgia; and then jump school, airborne school, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Then I went to Vietnam where I served for a year, and then came back and finished my obligation at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which was also the home of the Special Forces as well as the 82nd Airborne. There were so many people coming back from Vietnam that the headquarters for the 101st which is Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was filled. So they were putting people at Fort Bragg which, incidentally, was really interesting because it was so bad in terms of inspections, et cetera, that people were literally signing up to go to another tour of Vietnam just to get out of Fort Bragg.

Roger Olson:

Really?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yes. Horrible. Terrible. There wasn't a time in the Army that I didn't do KP including Vietnam. Including Vietnam. And Fort Bragg had the worst grease pits and everything, and it was like playing war, you know, people had come back from Vietnam, and they had to set up their lockers like for inspection and then break them and go out to the field and do war games. It was ridiculous. It was ridiculous. The anger was incredible. Lots of fights, lots of anger, just a lot of frustration because there was no reward for people returning from Vietnam, especially in the Army.

Roger Olson:

Let's go back chronologically --

Leroy V. Quintana:

Sure.

Roger Olson:

-- to the period in your life before you went into the Army.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Um-hum.

Roger Olson:

Maybe give us a little bit of background on your -- your growing up and what you were doing before you enlisted and how it was that that came about.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Okay. I had -- I had finished high school at Albuquerque High, and I played pool for a year and got fairly -- fairly good at it. I went to the University of New Mexico, and I did really well my first semester. I was majoring in French and anthropology. I still have an interest in anthropology. Well, the second semester came and I just, I don't know what it was. I just so -- I literally, I in a sense dropped out. The military picked me up, and the next thing I know I was in what they call a milk run from Albuquerque to El Paso, a slow moving train. And I did two months or more marching on gravel rocks at Fort Bliss in El Paso which is pretty hot. But before that -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

Roger Olson:

Okay. So you were in college, and then you just --

Leroy V. Quintana:

I was --

Roger Olson:

-- dropped out of college?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I was doing so badly. You know, I just don't know what hit me. I was doing so badly, that I finished that semester out but I didn't -- I'm sorry. I didn't enroll for the next. And just, you know, walked around downtown with a friend of mine until they picked both of us up. He went into finance. So it was almost like, well, go ahead and do it because I'm not -- there's no sense in going to college if you're not going to try to excel. I loved art, and I flunked art appreciation for cryin' out loud. I'd sit there really, and I just remember he was talking a lot about Watto, and he would interpret the lines and stuff and gave you Watto's philosophy. But I didn't do well in the test. I just didn't have any interest I guess. I didn't have any interest.

Roger Olson:

So you decided to enlist. Was the draft --

Leroy V. Quintana:

No, no, I didn't decide to enlist. They -- they got me.

Roger Olson:

Oh, you did get drafted?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yeah. I finished school. I didn't re-enroll.

Roger Olson:

Okay. So you had a deferment while you were in school?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, yes.

Roger Olson:

And then once you left school --

Leroy V. Quintana:

Right.

Roger Olson:

-- you were --

Leroy V. Quintana:

They picked me up within I guess it was two months. They were very good. Yeah, yeah. And you know what, I want to add something. When I got to Fort Lewis, Washington, which was the last stop before Vietnam, it was a mustering place, I was very very close to -- to British Columbia. Oh, and it looked beautiful from across the bay. And I guess, I don't know, maybe everybody considered it, but I sure did, and I thought -- This is out of chronological order but so that we get it in. I had -- it would have been -- it would have been nice to defect or whatever, but basically I couldn't. My mother had always held soldiering in high regard. She drilled into me Douglas MacArthur and the fact that I was born right around D-Day and, you know, seemed like it was a more honorable war, but they respected the guys that went. And so she -- she -- I think I would have let her down. I didn't want to do that.

Roger Olson:

At that time in your life, what was your own attitude toward what was going on in Vietnam?

Leroy V. Quintana:

To tell you the truth, I really didn't know that much about it. That's probably why. I just remember that people around me arguing, and I remember the monks setting themselves on fire. But basically I remember the coup with, what was it, Dien or before Dien. But really, no, I was totally ignorant, and that's probably why I did it.

Roger Olson:

How did you feel that day that the draft board was picking you up, how did that strike you?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I was awaiting for it.

Roger Olson:

You were expecting it?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yeah. I think that was -- I'm not sure if I was shocked or disappointed or anything. It was just, well, here's a solution to walking around town and having no aim. Terrible.

Roger Olson:

So now you knew what was going to be happening for the next portion of your life?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yeah but, you know, sometimes I think you live in denial, oh, it's not going to be that bad, you know. And you live through it, but it's horrible. The days are endless. Endless. I mean, you know, like at Fort Bragg in the airborne you're up at 4:00. By the time you've had breakfast and made the bed and stuff, you've put in half a day's work. And the other thing is just -- is just the days are filled with nothing. And if they're not filled with nothing, then it's just BS. You know, they have to find something for you to do.

Roger Olson:

So how old were you then when you went into the Army?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I think I was approximately about 21.

Roger Olson:

Did you have friends and relatives who were being drafted or going into the military at that time?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I had some friends who were being drafted, but I guess they did pretty well on the tests because they ended up in I think something like Signal Corps or something like that. I'm not a good test taker. I just remember that they would have a box, and it would be flattened out, and you had to give the answer how this thing would look when it was folded up. No, I don't think so. I said, what the hell does this have to do with the Army? You know, you're not going to be boxing things up. If anything, they're going to be boxing you up, you know. And I just, you know, I got a good IQ score but the rest of the stuff, you know. That's when I say that, you know, my daughter got her Ph.D. in physics. I have none of that. I gave her nothing because I just completely -- after a while I just threw it away. Why? But I guess they want you to think. I don't know. But that's not true. The Army doesn't want you to think.

Roger Olson:

Okay. So basic training was at Fort Bliss.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Fort Bliss.

Roger Olson:

That was your introduction into the Army?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Right.

Roger Olson:

What do you remember about that?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Well, you know, the strange thing is that I guess with the Marine Corps everybody catches hell, you know, that's how it used to be. Now I probably shouldn't say this, it's pretty well weakened. They have a red card that you can -- I understand you can pull up if you're stressed, and that's because the mother's called in and blah, blah, blah. So a lot of that, probably talk about that later on in terms of Iraq, but I ended up with the worst damned drill sergeant you can ever imagine. Oh, man. And some people was Mr. Nice Guy, would let them go. So we had a bunch of guys who screwed up, and we would -- we lived on the second and third floor, and after everything was over, he would have us disassemble our beds, take them out to the courtyard, assemble them, make them, okay, beds up, go up again, and everybody is looking at us like God, you know. And we would do that. It's not -- it's not easy. Mattresses and, you know, and you've got to make it so that it's inspection ready, you know. He was horrible. God, he was horrible, man. And other good things like that. But basically I remember the bed drill, and he -- and he was the worst one when it came to any other kind of tactics and stuff. Yeah. So anyway, you want me to tell you about the drill sergeants at Fort Gordon?

Roger Olson:

Fort Gordon, that's where you went for your --

Leroy V. Quintana:

That was next.

Roger Olson:

Okay.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Some of these guys were combat veterans, and I mean hard core combat veterans. This one guy would stand up in the morning before he called you to attention, and he had those marble eyes, glazed over look like, you know, he's seen too much already. And he would stand up there talking to himself for about five minutes, and everybody was like -- and he would be -- and he was a batty. And then he would call us to attention. Boy, he had, what do they call it, the 500-yard stare plus some. Hard core. Had been in rough time combat, and I think kind of looked down on us that we hadn't been, you know. But then we had, oh man, Sergeant Brasheers (ph), I think that was his name, he was a first sergeant, and he would say, oh man, he would say, The Lord giveth but Brasheers taketh away. And you know, really interesting about when they mustered us out to go to Vietnam, he was crying, because he had a good idea what was going to go on. So that was nice to see that, you know, among people like that, those guys, you know, the Army, you have a bunch of guys who are a lot of them signed up for three square meals a day and really are there for 20 years, and I don't think they make very much pay. And you know, I remember at Fort Bragg that if you watered your garden after 6 o'clock, they'd take a stripe away, that kind of stuff that you have to live with, you know, just eating. And that's your entire life if you put in 30. And speaking about 30, there was a guy the first night that I was in Vietnam, and that's in that book Interrogations, white hair, old, he was going to -- he had 29 years and was going for 30 for retirement, and they sent him to Vietnam just to mess with him. Not combat but just to get him, you know, to ice him, so to speak. And I thought, man, you know, give the guy a break, you know. 29 years of this horse crap. Man, you'd have to be in it to -- to appreciate it, you know.

Roger Olson:

At Fort Gordon, that was a more specialized training?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Similar, yes.

Roger Olson:

At that point were you -- were you going down a path towards a specific --

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, yeah. Everything is Vietnam.

Roger Olson:

But as far as the type of duty you would be doing, was that being -- was that being determined at that point, you're being groomed for a special role?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. That was your 11B2P, your MOS, military occupational status or something like that. I do have to say that at Fort Bliss we spent one entire long, long day sticking bayonets into tires, and it was -- and they would say, What's the spirit of the bayonet, and you'd plunge, To kill. I mean, you know, after you say "To kill" about 200 times, you know, that was the last thing I wanted to do was to kill. And then Fort Gordon, everything was -- Fort Gordon is a jungle. It was literally in the swamps. In fact, we got lost in one of the swamps one night on patrol. It was cold. All I kept thinking was, man, just invite all the black moccasins or whatever they are, bite our butts all over the place. It was scary, man. And so we -- yeah, all you did was Vietnam training. They had -- when you went to the grenade range, there was a guy up in the tree with a cone head, conical hat, and you were supposed to throw the grenade and blow him up. And if you did, I think you got like a three-day pass or something like that. But it was -- again, it was the same thing that we got at Fort Bliss, it was we're going over there to stop communism, to stop communism. When you got there, half the guys, you know, couldn't tell you what communism was anyway, you know. Half of them, more than half didn't know what we were doing there anyway, you know.

Roger Olson:

This was -- this is about the time of that big buildup where a lot of people were going over?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I don't remember. I don't remember. They had people going constantly. So this was '67, so I really don't know. I really don't know. There was enough people in place.

Roger Olson:

Were they shipping over entire units at that point or just individuals?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Well, basically what I remember after we finished jump school, they -- they sent everybody in airborne over. So I guess it was, yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm sorry. Because the airborne had I think like four battalions, I don't remember anymore, but the 502nd, 503rd, 504th. And each one of these were, you know, related to the 101st. So they were all like units from there. So, yeah, they were. And they sent one brigade which was the 173rd Airborne, and they got mauled at a place called Dak To which is at Hill 875, around Thanksgiving of that year, and they dropped a 2,000-pound bomb on them. The VC was so well entrenched that the jets would come in and they couldn't get them out from the bunkers and stuff. It was really bad. When it was over, and I knew a lot of guys in there because we had gone to training together, they -- they came and put up barbed wire, I don't know why, and they put them in there and, man, you couldn't -- you could count on three fingers how many guys were left. I couldn't tell you how many numbers a brigade is, but it's not that small but not that big. And these are guys that had left over as a holding till they got mauled. They wasted a lot of people. I mean, how in the hell do you drop -- I guess it's pretty easy to drop a 2,000-pound bomb on your home. Why even call it, you know. That's ridiculous. I mean, the odds. Those things aren't that accurate, you know. I remember when the first gunships came in, they were the Cobras, and we'd called one in and they came in right over us firing, and just by luck we hid under a big tree and the bullets were bouncing off. You can't, you know, these guys are up in the air, you can't determine. It's too iffy, you know, just much too iffy. They take too many chances with people's lives, you know, trying to save them.

Roger Olson:

Fort Benning was the jump school?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Fort Benning was jump school.

Roger Olson:

How is it that you got selected for airborne? You could have gone in other directions, couldn't you?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Probably if I had I wouldn't have had to do what I did, but they select you in basic training. From there you're on the track which basically means airborne means foot soldier. Now, a lot of people got out of it. They realized what was happening, and they checked out of it and got sent to Signal Corps or something like that, you know. But yeah, once it's done, for the most part you know where you're going, because it's got the reputation, yeah.

Roger Olson:

So what was it like to jump out of an airplane for the first time?

Leroy V. Quintana:

You know, before you do that, they have a tower. I don't know, what, 400 or 500 feet high, and they attach your canopy to it and pulled you up like this and now you can see Georgia and Washington, D.C., you know, and then they I guess they release it, and you come floating down and looks like one of those jellyfish, you know. But I don't -- for me, it never changes, it's scary. There was some people there who were pale. Pale. The other thing that I need to tell you is that if you go up, you're going down. They will throw your ass out. They'll throw you out because they're not going to play any of that stuff. And the jump master was up there, and the green light goes on, and he'll say, Make a hook, and you hook your static line, and then you go and you shuffle because you can't run because you'll fall and trip, so you shuffle, and you hit the door, and he'll say Go, go, go, and they'll throw you out. They will throw you out. So that's -- that's, you know, that will teach you, you know. That will teach you. And I think people know that so they close their eyes or whatever. You know, to answer your question, it's nice that after you jump and you check up and you see your canopy and you're floating down, nice. But boy, that first jump when they take you up in the plane and keeps going higher and higher, everybody is like, God, what the hell am I doing here, you know. It's frightening. It's really frightening. You know, it's abnormal. People don't jump out of planes. I mean, if a plane is going down on fire, I wouldn't jump out, you know. So anyway, it's just -- just isn't a normal thing to do. Oh, Lord.

Roger Olson:

So what was the basic training is, what, a couple months?

Leroy V. Quintana:

No. Basic -- basic is about maybe four to five weeks, maybe six.

Roger Olson:

Okay. And then --

Leroy V. Quintana:

Fort Gordon, same, about the same.

Roger Olson:

And jump school?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Jump school only goes two weeks, but it's intense. Like I told you earlier, it is the best training I ever got out of anything because they, you know, they've got to save your life, and they were constantly on you, constantly. But it was, you know, and they had -- they wanted you to react in a way so they would say drop and give me 20, and even if you hadn't done anything, drop and give me 20, you had to do it because, you know, just for the reaction. But, you know, I will tell you something, there's some things that people just don't learn because we would train, and the first thing you do after you jump is you check your canopy because, one, it may be twisted, and that's called a cigarette roll, and you'll be coming down like that, and you bicycle out of that. Or somebody may be sitting on top of it, you know.

Roger Olson:

Another jumper?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, yeah, yeah. That's easy. Or somebody maybe, what is it, under you, taking up your air. Stuff like that could happen, you know. So they trained you excellently, but you would -- they would have you there and they would say, Check your cantaloupe, and people would look up and they were like, Canopy, you know. But just it was funny. It's not funny because people like that could get you killed, you know, if they don't pay attention or whatever. But they -- they were excellent teachers, man, excellent. They should -- they should have that with everything.

Roger Olson:

After you finish your training at Fort Benning, then how long is it before you were shipped off?

Leroy V. Quintana:

About a month.

Roger Olson:

Where did you spend that month?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Home. I went -- I went to Albuquerque. And it was October, and it was just -- October in New Mexico is a time of change because we don't see seasons, probably have seasons in Minnesota, right, but not like here. So over there it's becoming fallish, crisp. We have what are called Aspencades, the aspens turn rust, green, brown, oh man, lime, and you see a whole valley of them, it's beautiful. So it just made me more kind of nostalgic because of that. And then I'm starting to realize, like you asked me earlier, what I've gotten into. Now I'm scared. I'm really scared because, you know, I wanted to come back. You know, I guess I finally realized the gravity of it, that it's possible that you could not come back. That's scary. When you're a young man, you know, I wanted to come back and go to school now.

Roger Olson:

School was probably looking pretty good.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yeah, it was. Yeah, it was.

Roger Olson:

So then take us through the next step where you actually go to Vietnam.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, okay. Let's see. Vietnam, we started at a place called Phan Rang, Vietnam, and it was a place of the 101st.

Roger Olson:

Did you go over there on a ship?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, no, no, no. It was an 18-hour flight. Oh, God, it was endless. And the worst -- one of the worst disappointments I ever had was we stopped at an airport -- what's that city in Japan with a Y, Yama --

Roger Olson:

Yokohama?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yokohama, okay. And you could see Yokohama outside the window. Oh, my God, man, they're going to turn us loose in Yokohama. I mean, I don't care what it is, I just want to see it, you know, I just want to see what it's like, the culture and stuff like that. They gassed up, and we took off. And I was like, oh my God, are you kidding, what's the hurry, you know. We're going to be bodies there whenever. That was so disappointing with the Army. They do that a lot. They promise you to take you to places like that, take you places and never materialize. Anyway I thought, oh my God, it would be so great to see a city, you know, that I've never known. So last semester I had a Vietnamese student, I asked her, I said, Where are you from? She said Phan Rang. I said, Phan Rang? I've been there. She looked at me like, and then she said, You know, I believe you. I said, Why is that? She said because it's a tent city, there's nothing there. I don't think anybody has ever heard of Phan Rang because later they moved to I think it's Camp Chickenhawk or something like that where now the philosophy of the war was air mobile. They had like, I don't know, 25,000 choppers and if there was some action, they would load them all up -- somebody made money off of this -- and took them in instead of having to walk and stuff. But nobody knows. People look at me and I'll say Phan Rang, and they'll look at me like you weren't in the airborne, you know. And the sad thing -- you know, the second day I was in Phan Rang it was sad because I thought to myself, oh man, this is not going to happen to me. You had guys coming back from the hospital wounded, and they were healed, and I mean they gave them the rucksacks and told them to pack it up and go back. I thought to myself, bull, I am not going to do that, man. If I get wounded or something like that, that's it. I'm not going to go back. I'm scared. You know, I've done my duty right there. And they packed it up and went back into the bush, into the grass. I thought, come on, you know, why? I mean, that's cruelty. That is -- one, I think it's just mental cruelty. I met up with a friend of mine somewhat later in Cam Ranh Bay, a Puerto Rican guy, who had been wounded. I hadn't seen him for a while, and he was going back. I said to myself, you're a braver man than I am, man. I don't know. Because you know you could get out of Vietnam. One way was just refuse to go, and they could send you to LBJ City, Long Binh Jail. Or they would just say we'll give you a bad conduct discharge or something. I'd say, Give it to me, you know. Some people it's not worth it, you know. And you know what, I've got to give people a lot of credit, people lasted out there, you know. I'm hearing now that there's maybe 45 percent rate of suicide in Iraq. I never -- I'm sure it happened, but I never heard of that in Vietnam. People got stood out from the worst to the best, you know, people ought to give that kind of credit to those guys because it's kind of like an unknown war. You know, they stuck it out.

Roger Olson:

How much time did you spend in Phan Rang?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Maybe two weeks, and then I got selected for recon, and then moved out of there and started going out with five-man teams for about a week or more. That's what I did the rest of the tour.

Roger Olson:

There's a story, Great Whirl of Exile, about a recon team.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yeah.

Roger Olson:

Is that -- how much of that is --

Leroy V. Quintana:

All true. I don't write anything that's not true. I write fiction but not that kind of fiction. No, it's scary, Roger, because imagine the scenario that can occur. You're five men and, you know. There was one guy I remember back in headquarters in platoon, he had been surrounded, his team had, and they had shot everybody but him, and he walked around like, man, I don't know, just as bad as that drill sergeant I told you about, his eyes were just shattered. And that's the other thing I told myself, man, whatever you do, good Lord, don't let me be the last one. Man. I don't want to be the first one either. Well, you know, there's a lot of scenarios, you know, you don't even think about out there. People can capture you, and if they think you have information because you're in recon, they can skin you alive. That's not a good prospect, man. Or they can torture you. And the other thing, just have them go with you for the rest of the tour, whatever. A lot of torturing went on too. But that's -- that's frightening. You know, sometimes then you go out with some really incompetent guys who fall asleep on guard duty. Are you crazy, man? We're fighting people out there and you're snoring. You know, that's the problem with the Army is that sometimes it doesn't give you what you need in terms of adequate training I guess you would say, but it's scary because you don't know what could happen, you know. One day, I had seen this in anthropology because I was an anthro student, and we're sitting in the middle of the jungle, and we hear this crashing. And I thought, good God, the whole goddamn North Vietnamese Army is coming after us. Crash. Crash. We didn't know what to do. We were literally frozen. Then you look up like this, there was a whole troop of baboons grabbing branches with babies on their bellies hanging on like that and really interesting to see, especially if you were an anthro student, you know. Oh, it was really, really something probably nobody, a whole lot of people will never see because we were deep, deep in the jungle, and you wouldn't see that. You know, maybe somebody like Jane Goodall and all those people. But you know, there are some kind of things like that.

Roger Olson:

When you're out on a recon patrol, there are just five of you?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Five.

Roger Olson:

And how far are you from the nearest help if you had to radio in for something?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Right. You're a good chopper's ride away. So that even when you call in your sixth or seventh day, it will take them who knows how long to get there, to have a chopper ready. So it can take them up to half an hour so, you know.

Roger Olson:

You're on your own.

Leroy V. Quintana:

You're basically on your own, yeah. And you know, lots of things could happen. It didn't happen to us but some people. You have smoke grenades, okay, and they have like yellow, red, maybe green. I don't remember. So do the VC. And they have jammers and blah, blah, blah. Somebody said throw red. Well, they can throw red over there and get the chopper over there and get it down and do damage. Look, those people fought the French for 100 years before let's say Ho Chi Manh came to power and Jacques (ph), he orchestrated a really interesting defeat of the French, he lured them into the middle of a valley down there, then got all the cannons up on high around the rim and let loose, and the French went home humiliated. But those guys, you know, that's the other thing, we never -- we never understand the nature of our enemy. We don't understand right now the Arab mentality. You know, I think it was very crazy to rush in like that because they have a totally different view. I know some of it, some of it is if I die today I go to Allah, if I die tomorrow I go to Allah, so shoot. But these guys were just, just, they were hardened by war, hardened. 100 years they had the French. Before that they had the Japanese. They've never known peace, you know. So they're smart at warfare. You know, the kind of punji sticks, they file a bamboo to a point, stick it in feces, and you'd (inaudible). Our radioman, it missed his testicles by about an inch because he crouched. We had to go see him, he got a Purple Heart because it got infected. So, Roger, this is the point. You can put out a soldier with no money on your part and put out a soldier with how much, what do you think it takes to maintain people out there per day, you know, like our expenditure in Vietnam and Iraq. I mean, just simple technology, you know. And when you have that kind of mentality, that's going to be hard to beat somebody because they can beat you on like common sense. And some of the other stuff they had, swinging gates with sharpened bamboo that would just come at you. We had the technology, they had some but nothing like we had. We had too much, you know. You ever heard of a bouncing baby?

Roger Olson:

No.

Leroy V. Quintana:

You step on it, the mine comes up about chest high, and then it goes off. You know. We can't -- we can't stop homelessness, you know, but we can invent that kind of stuff. Now they have that 5,000-pound bomb. Have you seen that?

Roger Olson:

I think I've read about it.

Leroy V. Quintana:

I saw they were assembling it on, I don't know, KPBS or something. But we've been picking on little countries for a while, you know, and I think we realize that we pulled out of there because Vietnam was not so little, you know. We left it a mess, but I think they own it just by the fact that we left.

Roger Olson:

There's an incident you've written about where you're on a patrol, recon patrol, and you spend the night on the side of a hillside or mountain, and when you wake up in the morning, you wake up realizing that there's a file of VC walking by just 2 or 3 feet of you. You want to talk about that?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Well, okay. Well, it wasn't when we woke up but pretty close. I might say that people don't know how cold it gets in Vietnam in the Central Highlands up high. And then during monsoon it is so cold, and you stay up all night freezing because it's raining all night, and the rain comes up and falls on you. So you get up the next day and you have dishpan hands, dishpan feet, 24 hours a day. The worst torture you could ever get. It's cold. I mean, can you imagine? You know like, for instance, when it rains, what's the first thing we do, we run inside for shelter, right? Well, you can't run for shelter. We're high in the mountains and just wet, wet, wet. It's horrible. Now, what happened I think with that one there was that somehow along the line, let's see if I can put it together, we had been walking along, and if I remember correctly there's people who are stateside, meaning they've served in the States but not over there, so they have no idea how to function in the jungle. So we had been walking, and I think the guy called a halt, and we're in the middle of a clearing, and we had what are called LRPs. They have those now for deer hunting and stuff, plastic bags, you put water in there and mix them up. They're very good, some of them. And I got up like this, I don't know, must have been my lucky day because I see about four or five muzzle flashes, and at the same time I'd fall back like this. Everybody thought I was dead. We got there, we rounded the wagons, and then started running. Now, I may be confusing this with another mission, by the way. We were walking with these guys stateside. And I said, Whoa, man, stop. We are following a trail, and we're going to get into big trouble. And they wouldn't believe me. I said, Look, all these branches are cut off right here so that people -- and they were all white. What the hell does that tell you, man, you know, and people refused to believe it. You've got to be crazy, man. I should have just said, You know what, I'm not going any further with you. You don't know what the hell you're talking about. All cut, chest high. Nobody could see them from up, you know. One of the tricks that the Vietnamese had is if they had a bridge, they would stick it under the water so that you could walk but it was still like 4 feet, and you couldn't see it from the recon plane and stuff. That's the stuff I'm telling you about, 100 years of warfare. So anyway, it was raining like hell if I can remember correctly, and oh, we just had to stop. We were sliding down hills and stuff. I said, Okay, look. Whatever you do, don't get under a poncho, you know, because you're not going to be able to see what's happening, you know. So I'm sitting like this, and I catch this movement, must have been about no more than about probably less than a yard, and I'm down like this, and I see these feet moving like caterpillars, man. I thought, oh Lord. And I kind of look up, and they're going and going and going, and these guys are under ponchos. So they could have killed us all, you know. So blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They got up from under the ponchos like this, and they're like, holy crap, you know. And actually I had been standing and one guy cut a tree and swung himself to hold balance, and he came I would say within probably a foot and a half of me face-to-face, and then he got the other tree and I thought, whoa, I think I've just been saved, spared, he didn't see me. Man, I thought how in the hell could he not have seen me. Well, there were trees and stuff, but I mean I saw him perfectly. So I dropped in the mud because, you know, it's good to give orders, but they were under their ponchos, but I had my weapon here, nothing's going to happen. And I'll tell you the truth, I was trembling out of control. I was so -- I've never been so scared in my life because I thought these guys, who knows what, I'm scared. And I had never -- I had never really kind of experienced something so primal before, but my teeth are chattering. I'm like, oh, the ground is trembling. I hear this voice inside me, mother, mother. What the hell, man. But that's how scared you get. I was calling for my mother, not just way, way, I don't know, maybe way down in here, psyche or something because it was -- it was like so urgent that your inner whatever responded. I couldn't respond outwardly physically, and I heard -- I heard myself calling for my mother. Well, okay. Later I thought, Jesus, man, what was that about. I've never -- I didn't know things like that happened. I didn't know things like that happened that you can be so scared that your -- that your -- I don't know what to call it. You have a word for it? Your psyche or -- Yeah, anyway, I thought jeez, man, but we were spared. And then we called in the choppers. They had just got in a new Cobra, and they had two interesting weapons. They had a mini-gun like one of those -- one of those machine guns you see in the movies, Gatling gun but way faster. I don't know how many rounds it fired per minute but it would go like (noise) and talk about awesome fire power. And then it had cannons. So as it would come in, it would be going like burping and then you'd have (noise). Incredible weapon, but you've got to know how to run it if you have a good target, you know.

Roger Olson:

Once all these people had fire lined passed, you --

Leroy V. Quintana:

We called in.

Roger Olson:

-- called on the radio and they dispatched this Cobra?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Right. That's what they called the gunships when they come in. Like when officers go out, they're always escorted by gunships because that's the best protection. But that's your ace in the hole I guess.

Roger Olson:

And how did you -- how did you identify the location that the chopper had to fly to?

Leroy V. Quintana:

When you're in recon, more than likely your radioman has a map and the squad leader has a map, okay. And when you call it in, you give them coordinates. And they've already set the coordinates. Like alpha, bravo, tango, and you coordinate, well, latitude and longitude actually. But, you know, they're coming in too fast. You know, unless it's a wide open sure shot, it's pretty hard to determine. He thought he was on the right track. They were going this way down the hill, and he comes in this way over us.

Roger Olson:

How would the visibility have been from the air? You're under --

Leroy V. Quintana:

It had cleared. It had cleared because the sun had come out. So that was fine.

Roger Olson:

And the vegetation?

Leroy V. Quintana:

It wouldn't matter. Vietnam has what's called a tree canopy. You have low, medium, and high trees. But they hadn't been gone that long so if you fire in that area coming down, you can do some damage. You may not see them, but you know at least where to fire, you know. But these guys were way off. They were going perpendicular to what they were supposed to be doing. That's scary I mean because a lot of fire power. It's incredible what we can -- we can commission. And I heard that they had something better after that, the Apache came out. This is a Cobra gunship.

Roger Olson:

It was a little askew as to where it was headed, what happened then?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Well, it cut loose and just by luck we were near this huge fallen tree, and it fired, and that helped deflect a lot of it. Otherwise, and we were lucky because even with the deflection, it could have gotten us. I mean, just weird. It was just our day. Then I do have a poem in there somewhere, maybe it's in the fiction book, that it never occurred to me that we went back, and we gave them the information, and then they cut loose with the big guns, artillery, I'm thinking whatever happened to these guys, you know. It's kind of a cruel gesture to do that but not to ever, ever consider what happened to your enemy, you know. We're not trained to do that. One day it occurred to me, I thought how come at that point I never thought of what about those guys, you know. I mean, they were doing their job, we were doing our job I suppose, but they're human beings too. And when they -- when they cut loose with the artillery, they cut loose with the artillery. I mean, you know, you can go out in the jungle and see pieces of everything, craters and stuff, clothes hanging from the branches, people just had been blown apart and stuff. That stuff is heavy-duty, and that's not going to respect any brush and stuff or anything else, tear it up, you know. But that's sad, you know, we never -- we never, well maybe years later there's been a lot of interchange now like at the Joiner Center at U Mass. Boston where they're bringing in Vietnamese writers for their workshop every summer, and there's a lot of them, and they're very good, especially the poets. They have their stuff memorized and read so well. But there's been a lot of interchange at least in terms of literature, and that's good. Very good. And the Curbstone Press is publishing a lot of novels and stuff. Been a lot of big proliferation of Vietnamese writing. Very good stuff. So that's, I guess that's our attempt at some kind of reconciliation, you know.

Roger Olson:

Your duty in Vietnam must have been extremely stressful when you're on these dangerous missions.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yeah.

Roger Olson:

How did you -- how did you cope with that? How did you maintain your --

Leroy V. Quintana:

Well, you know, I think anybody who's there will tell you that you just have to -- you just have to think that it's not going to happen to you, that it's kind of like a state of denial I guess basically that I'm not going to get it. Oftentimes you do, but if you don't have that, you need something to get you through. You know, you go on a mission and just the chopper drops you off, and you're there for about half an hour to see if there's any movement to see if they've spotted you, and it's hard because when you get up and start walking off, you know, there's always a possibility that you're going to walk into an ambush, and I think you just kind of block it off because otherwise it's going to interfere with not so much doing what you do but in living, you know. Isn't that what fire fighters do here?

Roger Olson:

I would imagine.

Leroy V. Quintana:

I would imagine. I mean, you can't get me to go into a burning building or burning doghouse, you know, and yet what do you have to do to survive that, you know? I'm going in and I'm coming out. You know, when was the last time you were in a car accident or some traumatic thing happened to you, let's say, heaven forbid, somebody's child gets sick. What do you say, you know, this is it? It will get better, I will survive it one way or another. Because I think if you fold to it, then you're going to maybe fall to it more. You don't know. You just don't know. Much too uncertain.

Roger Olson:

Did casualties occur around you to other people?

Leroy V. Quintana:

You know, we had one guy who had his head blown off, and this will tell you the definition of safe, you know. Because like any other profession, you know, you could go here and fine tune the room in the hallway here and maybe kill half an hour, everybody can do that at war, you know. He decided that he was going to just slip the day away which we've done too. Let's face it. We got infilled into a place on the beach and a steep hillside. Hey, come on, you know the best way to go fishing, use hand grenades and bust their lungs or something, they come up and you have a fish fry. They would keep saying, Why don't you walk up there? Well, we tried, it's too steep. So they finally came and got it. So anyway, to put the story together, he gets in the bush and slides in, and it's relax city because nothing's going to happen, you know. Viet Cong crawls up on him -- how, nobody knows -- you know, blew his head off. That's bizarre. I mean, when you think you're safe. So obviously he thought, well, nothing's going to get me here, and maybe that's when things happen. One good thing about a lot of the recon leaders and stuff when I came in and stuff like that was they were never too careful, you know. I would have just, well, I'll sleep over here and then a chain of Viet Cong comes by with cannons or whatever else. You hide where it's best and you just take as much care as possible, you know. We had one guy from Utah who was a Mormon who was a super tracker, and he could read maps like, I don't know what. He spent a lot of time in the mountains. Boy, was it good to have somebody like him. He could tell you blah, blah, blah. But yeah, I think you're always running scared. You know what the scariest part is when they say okay, you're going on a mission, Roger, Wednesday or Tuesday, okay, get your stuff ready in one or two days. And you're like that's when you start thinking because you've got a lot of time to what could happen, you know. And then -- and then when you first go in there -- I guess once you're in there you're still kind of weary, but there's not much you can do. And what do you think the other stressful point is? Going in.

Roger Olson:

Is coming out stressful?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Hell, yeah. Why do you think it's stressful? That's --

Roger Olson:

You think something's going to happen.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Well, that's when you -- that's when you're at your weakness.

Roger Olson:

Yeah. You think you're in the clear now.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Right. One guy, I didn't know this but I had a friend of mine who he was an Alabama-Coushatta, an Indian from Oklahoma, and he said, They always tell you keep your steel pots on. This guy was going home, took his steel pot off, he was safe, getting into the chopper, and a sniper blew his head off because you're vulnerable, you know. The chopper is down, snipers can be out, you don't get in on time, they have a rocket ready, a million things could happen and, you know, they machine gun the chopper down, then you're in worse trouble. And your expectations are high, I'm going home, you know, and that's worse than going in because your anxiety level is real high because you don't know if they're going to wait until you get in and get all of you. And it's just so glad when you get up and you're out of there because you just don't know. Real, real, to me it was and to everybody it was very stressful. Very stressful. You were weak. Plus, you've been out there four or five days. Aah, it's over. Nothing's over. Nothing's over. And you know what, a lot of it I think is just luck that there isn't a sniper when you're coming in. It's luck, you know, because there has been for other people.

Roger Olson:

When you return from one of these patrols, where are you returning to?

Leroy V. Quintana:

What's known as base camp. There you have -- but it's not headquarters where you have all your belongings. It's a camp where you -- they have beds there, a mess hall, if you can call it food, and that's where you kind of hang out until you go to the next.

Roger Olson:

So were you at that same base camp?

Leroy V. Quintana:

No, no, no. The one good thing I can say is that I traveled over a great part of Vietnam. They would take us to recon over here by the border, and so in our time off we could go downtown. As long as you weren't scheduled to go into the field, you could go downtown.

Roger Olson:

Downtown would be what?

Leroy V. Quintana:

It would be like just a city, just a regular city, small but, you know, very busy. You see the opium joints and all that other stuff there. You know, it's -- [Break in tape]

Leroy V. Quintana:

Way to go, gal.

Roger Olson:

So your base camp, you'd go to different base camps?

Leroy V. Quintana:

You'd go to different or what they call fire camps where they have artillery. They'll have they're not tanks but they look like tanks, where they have like a double action firing, they would fire that. When we were in Damatok (ph), we went downtown once. Some people would smoke grass there in Vietnam, you know, I don't know any of them. But so we were walking down, I guess we decided to walk back to base camp, and this Jeep stops and up stands this guy must have been like 6'9". And he walks toward us, and you have your combat infantry badge. Well, he had his combat infantry badge on the wrong side and like, what, who is this. And the major goes, You guys know who this is? Everybody looks at him like, No. That's Daniel Boone. One guy says, Who the fuck is Daniel Boone? And the major's like, Oh my God, these guys have been smoking and ruined the whole Army thing. He goes, Fess Parker. And Fess is like this, goddamn, no wonder we're losing this damn war. You know, no wonder we're losing the war, look at these guys. And we laughed. I mean, in front of him we were literally rolling on the ground. So, hard times.

Roger Olson:

When you went down on patrol, was it with the same people each time?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Not necessarily because some people graduated. See, like I would have been there in September and you got there in May. I'm obviously going out.

Roger Olson:

People are rotating in and out?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Right.

Roger Olson:

You try to keep the same --

Leroy V. Quintana:

Not necessarily because there's other factors like some guy's sick or some guy refuses to go. You know, you have guys take pills or medicine to throw up because, you know, they have a girl friend back home. Well, you know, a lot of -- I think you put it best when you said stress. Stress hits in all kinds of places, you know, it makes cowards out of people too. It makes cowards out of people because after a while you don't want any more to do with it because the longer you are in country, the better you're learning the job, but then the odds are increasing that, you know, or decreasing, you don't know, that you might -- you might buy the farm as they say.

Roger Olson:

The longer you're there, the more the odds something might happen to you?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I think. But even though, you know, you know what you're doing, that doesn't mean a damn thing because you can't -- you can't see and you can't predict. I mean, you can't predict how many, you know, how many people (inaudible). No matter how good you are, you know, you can't. And so even, you know, you can probably do pretty well. But you can, you know, I had a very good friend who started throwing up, and the chopper would leave without him, and it was embarrassing because, you know, everybody's trying to cover up for him because you know he's a coward because they have to go, you know. And I think later he went back. He was scared to death which is so is everybody else but I think he was maybe a little more, maybe more realistic. But he had a girl, and she would send pictures of her with her big bunny, what do you call those things, toy, teddy bear. That's not good. Can I say something about Iraq?

Roger Olson:

Sure.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Okay. You know, there are several reasons why I think we're doing so bad. I don't think we're doing well. I may get a lot of flack for this, but I'll take it. I was watching Ted Koppel a few nights ago, week or so ago or more, and I got -- it didn't hit me until after the program was over. They were interviewing this guy, these two guys, they were twins. Now, you're not supposed to go to war if you have twins, right. What are they doing, you know. Because the whole blood line died, and the point of the government is to keep it going supposedly. They should not be there because you see in some of the lit where an older brother took the turn for the younger one because you can't have two, blah, blah, blah. So anyway I'm seeing this, they're interviewing the guys and they're talking to the mother, blah, blah, blah, whatever, computers but visually too. And I'm thinking, you can't do that. You cannot -- you should not do that. Why? I mean, and then they would go put their gear on and go. You can't see your mother crying and having pains over you and then go out on a mission. You can't. I don't think that's -- or you can but I don't think it's healthy. I don't think it's good for performance or maybe even morale. You know, I want to talk to my mom but not at that rate because you know she's hurt. You know she's hurt. To see that, two boys. And the father is choked up. I don't think that's good for conducting any kind of armed whatever. I don't know. What do you think?

Roger Olson:

It doesn't sound like a good idea to me.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Doesn't sound like a good idea. I mean, it's just not healthy. And there's so many other stuff that's going on like that that I think most of these guys -- and this is going to be harsh, that's why -- are in the Army because it would be very difficult with the job situation today with the qualifications that they have, they couldn't find a job. That's why they're sticking it out. And I'll stand by that. Because the Army, they're here in military housing, didn't have enough money, the Salvation Army is having drives to get them furniture. I don't understand that, you know. Anyway...

Roger Olson:

You mentioned morale. I wanted to ask you about the morale amongst your peers in Vietnam, how would you characterize that?

Leroy V. Quintana:

That's a good question, yeah. I think -- there was a lot of people, older guys, who quoted Kennedy like What can your country do, blah, blah, blah, and they were okay because at least they had direction in terms of -- direction in terms of why they were there, communism, blah, blah, blah. I'm going to say that the majority of people, one, really, really didn't know what they were doing. A lot of people were there in the airborne were there for the money, okay. And I think it's to their credit that people stuck it out and did what they did despite the fact that they didn't -- that there wasn't any clear objective. Nobody there knew. I could tell you a man who could give you any history of the Viet Cong, any history of warfare in Vietnam and what was happening. Plus it's like now, I don't think anybody cared. It's just two countries. Let them fight it out themselves. Why are we here? Basically a lot of people didn't know and I think a lot of people just really in some way saved themselves by not giving a damn. But it's to their credit that people, you know, lived it out because there could have been a lot of desertions, there were some but not en masse. And a lot of them, you know, some people opted out by drugs and they went to LBJ City. Fight, LBJ City. But for the most part, I think that they were just very, very brave. Stupid too maybe. I don't see morale. I see -- this is going to probably sound very stupid, I just see people being adults and men. You know, there was -- there was a lot of black there who really weren't going to go home to much really, you know, and they got stood down. I mean, you know how that was in the '60s. I mean, but they did. I mean, to their credit they were very, very brave. You know, there's nothing at the end of the rainbow for you. That's my statement on morale, that people were more brave than morale. Very brave.

Roger Olson:

During the course of the time you were in Vietnam, how did your attitude toward the war evolve both what you were feeling yourself as far as justification for the war and is that something you talked about amongst yourselves?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Not really.

Roger Olson:

No?

Leroy V. Quintana:

No. I think everybody was somewhat deteriorated when they walked in and definitely deteriorated when they walked out, for a lot of -- a lot of stupid reasons. Okay, one, officers wasted an awful lot of men for their purposes. You know, like if they wanted a high body count, you can throw people in. Well, you're going to get a high body count, but you're going to take some too, you know. And stupid decisions. Bad decisions in terms of maybe logistics or positioning.

Roger Olson:

So you questioned the strategy?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, yes. Oh, definitely. Guys would come back and -- people would do crazy things. We had one guy who had gone, and we had seen this waterfall, next thing you know we're going back, and he's got like I don't know how many blocks of dynamite. He went and cleared with the leader or major, whatever, to go undo that waterfall and blow the cave up. Hey, man, you know what? We're the ones out there with you. Could you have let us know, you know. They catch us, you know, they're going to tie those blocks of dynamite around our legs or something and blow us up with you, you know, because you're a hero. But more often than not I think tactics. It seems to me that Vietnam was a war of -- I don't know how to put it -- of glory, okay. People went there to -- what's the word I'm looking for -- to load up their vitae, their resume. Okay. If you're a captain and you have so many kills, you can go to major and other things. People got medals there for going to the bathroom, you know. And you would be surprised. I had papers for medals and I burned them. Why? Everybody was making up medals. And then you come back and you have people -- so the people that earned them legitimately have nothing, so to speak. But you could promote yourself. So if you got three Purple Hearts, and that wasn't that hard to do. So and people called blood rank, blood rank meaning that you send a certain amount of men over there to capture a position or something like that. Then that goes on your resume. Okay. He was out in Quang Tri Province and captured whatever they make up. But you've done that at the expense of somebody's children. So people loaded up on their resumes like crazy. Crazy. So that when they came back they were all lifers, as they say, okay. They had these incredible jobs to go to, you know. And you saw that constantly. I mean, I remember once a general, what was his name, he went out because he wanted to see what it was like in the field with us, okay, and he had like three gunships around him. Like the Viet Cong is really going to mess with you, you know. So he went in, half an hour later he was out. You know, I don't think he wanted to stay out here. Here come the gunships to take him back. You know, it's not a -- it's not a pleasant thing. Mainly, you know, like you said, you're scared. Nobody wants to be scared. Imagine firemen go in a burning building. No, somebody else's job, you know. You know, you're scared and those guys have never been in any kind of position like that. So but now he can claim he was in on a mission and get what they call an air medal. The biggest example was must have been the 173rd. Now, you know that in World War II there was a lot of combat jumps, the guys strapped, I mean those guys were soldiers, man. You know what happened in Vietnam? They chose an LZ, a landing zone, and they got the jets to strafe and strafe and strafe until there was like there wasn't an ant in sight. They load up the 173rd officers, okay, they go in, they make a combat jump, right. Why is it a combat jump? Because it's in Vietnam, it's hostile territory. So now you get to put whatever you can as a combat jump. Bullshit. I mean, they didn't jump a combat jump. It's like those guys in World War II when flak was coming at you, there's no tension there. To a man they all got their -- a combat jump means on your wings you get a little star. I mean, who wants that. That's phony. But people came back I mean just loaded, loaded. So that doesn't do much for morale to answer your question, but it happened.

Roger Olson:

I want to make sure that we continue moving forward.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Sure, sure, sure. I talk too much. Okay.

Roger Olson:

Maybe more toward the end of your duty and when you could see the light at the end of the tunnel when you knew who'd be coming home by a certain time.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Hopefully.

Roger Olson:

How did that period go and when you actually did come home?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I was scared. I was even more scared. I went out once and like every damn step, goddamn, they call it short, your short time, okay.

Roger Olson:

Right.

Leroy V. Quintana:

And I remember one time I thought, oh God, they can't be sending me out there. Some people even in the line went up to about four or five days and they bought the farm. Some people two weeks. So I'm out and we had this Vietnamese guy walking, I turn around like this and I think, oh my God. And then, oh shit, a Vietnamese guy. I'm so scared because if they catch me now after I've done all this time, it's a waste, or got wounded or something. I mean, I guess if you're there like six months and you catch it. But I was very, very tense. I was so glad when they said you can just stay back and drink beer. I was scared. No, I don't want to catch anything, anyway, at that stage. What the hell I did all this stuff for. But I'm sorry.

Roger Olson:

Go ahead.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Look at what you do to your family. Oh, he's coming home in a week, and then they get this letter like he bought the farm. That kind of tension really works on people.

Roger Olson:

You mentioned your family. How was it being away from your family and how did you keep in touch with your family? Were you able to send letters?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I sent letters, yeah, I sent letters. And when I went into Taipei, I made a phone call, and that's about it. Letters, one phone call. Oh, the phone call was nice. That was one of the joys. We were talking about how people enjoyed themselves in Vietnam. Pot, mail call, and the brothels in town. And pot was like readily available, you know. So were women. Because I think the United States had a hand in setting up all these bordellos like it did in the Philippines. You knew that, right? Because that's the way of entertaining the troops and keeping them happy and blah, blah, blah. There was plenty of that.

Roger Olson:

So now you're counting down the days.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Counting the days.

Roger Olson:

And finally you arrive to the day you come home. What happened? Get on a plane again?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, yeah. You go back to some headquarters company. That deals with people that are leaving, the iron bird is waiting, as they say. And you're there, I don't know how long, maybe a week. I don't know. And you basically almost all processed out anyway, so you just sit around. And then they'll tell you, they get a bus, and take you to the -- to the plane. It's a bunch of totally different guys because, you know, other units have gone on other planes and stuff, and you see Mount Fuji and you move on. You know -- you know one thing that was strange to me, I didn't see the kind of joy and abandon that I thought I would see. I thought that plane would take off, I thought people would just go bananas. Everybody was just kind of like I don't want to say stunned or dazed, but you know what I'm saying?

Roger Olson:

Did you have a moment where you -- where you said yourself I'm going to be okay, I made it, I'm safe now?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yeah.

Roger Olson:

Where were you at that point? Were you on the plane?

Leroy V. Quintana:

No, I guess -- Oh, I know, when I left the camp where you're going to -- Well, you know what is sad, you're leaving and all these new guys are coming in. Oh my God, you have a year, dude, you know, because you've been there. When I was there I had like eight, nine months, and this guy was leaving. I have fewer days than you have months. Thanks a lot, you know. And so once I left that, I was fine. Once in headquarters to get out, pretty cool, and then once they take you to the plane. But it wasn't like a kind of anxiety, really strange, everybody was like I don't want to say dull. What's the word I'm looking for when you're stunned?

Roger Olson:

You just feel numb.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Numb, yeah. It was numb. You didn't see that whole kind of -- they were happy but, you know, not jump out of the window, you know. I don't know. Numb.

Roger Olson:

You went back to Fort Bragg to serve out your remaining part of your term. How long? How much time was that?

Leroy V. Quintana:

I think it was three months. Horrible.

Roger Olson:

It was awful?

Leroy V. Quintana:

The only thing in the Army that was good, like I say, we did KP everywhere in the Army. Air Force had air-conditioned mess halls, the best food. So you suffer more than once.

Roger Olson:

And then finally you were --

Leroy V. Quintana:

Then I went home.

Roger Olson:

Okay. Now, at that time that was 1969?

Leroy V. Quintana:

'69.

Roger Olson:

The anti Vietnam sentiment in the country was pretty strong.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Strong.

Roger Olson:

How were you received as a returning Vietnam veteran by your community and the people you met?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Not, not anything -- I think even if they weren't into the movement and stuff, it was just like no big deal. I told one guy, Hey, I just got back from Vietnam. What do you want, a rubber cookie? You son of a bitch. Yeah, there was just not -- you know, I see these guys getting off the ships or whatever and there's like 5,000 women waiting for them. We didn't get any of that. In fact, some of the guys like in San Francisco, I know one guy here got shit on, you know, baby killers and all that. So it was indifferent. It was just plain indifferent. Even among friends it wasn't like that blatantly indifferent but it was okay, you know. Nobody gave a damn about anybody coming back from Vietnam.

Roger Olson:

Was it a difficult adjustment for you to return back to a normal civilian life after the experience you had?

Leroy V. Quintana:

What do you mean normal? Was I abnormal? I was abnormal.

Roger Olson:

Normal compared to what you're doing on a normal basis.

Leroy V. Quintana:

Oh, no, no. You know why? Hey, look, I can -- I can sleep till 11:00 or 12:00 any day of the week, whether I've been in combat or not, you know. I guess it wasn't -- it wasn't -- I didn't see it as that bad. The adjustment was like going to school and people like giving you crap. Yet at the same time, you know, hysterical with the Democratic National Convention, you know what I'm saying? Does that kind of dwell on you that you can protest about this stuff over there but something here, maybe it's too close to home. They just didn't give a damn. Nobody gave a damn. That was the whole experience I got over and over and over, just didn't give a damn. It was weird because, you know, everybody has some expectations. I thought, well, I've been through this, you know, there should be some reward, you know. I mean, these guys get their reward. Yeah, and then the other thing too is the Army and all these people, they don't decontaminate you, whatever the hell the word is, or prepare you to go back home. Okay, now you're going to see girls in miniskirts, and you're going to go crazy. They had no interest in doing that. After it's over, you're just out the door. The Army doesn't care about that, you know. It's sad, and I think that was just like I say, we got nothing. For all the brave I would say deeds that people did, you know. That's the other thing is that people don't understand the kind of stuff that people went through, you know. It's not -- it's not easy. You know, it's not -- it's coming more and more now, but it's not an easy thing for people to be shooting at you, you know. It makes you uncomfortable, man, you know. And to undergo the kind of fear that you can -- you can have in a place like that. I don't think nobody can understand, you know.

Roger Olson:

Anybody who goes through an experience like that in combat, a lot of people are traumatized and takes a long time to overcome that. Did you have any problems yourself?

Leroy V. Quintana:

You know what, I've been okay, but I know people who are on a lot of medication. I think stress is different for people, you know.

Roger Olson:

How do you think the whole experience, being in the military, being in a war, changed you as a person? If you had never had that experience, if you had just gone to school and finished your degree and got a job and got on with your life, how is your life different now because you had that experience? How are you as a person different?

Leroy V. Quintana:

That's a great question. That is a good question. Well, hmm, I think the military gives you at least some sense of responsibility. That, you know, waking early and doing all this crap and surviving it is something that most people I guess don't understand. Boy, that's a great question. Can I say something? I think -- I think whether, you know, one wants to or not, you mature in certain ways. Okay. Just the fact that you're sitting in Vietnam and somebody says grab your rucksack, you're going out, get it ready, you're going out tomorrow, and like how many people face the possibility of death or mutilation daily. You know, that will change you. And so you know, I would like to say that I don't experience fear anymore, but I do, you know. But I think maybe having experienced it in that way may qualify me to say well, you know, you can get over this, okay. Sure, you have a flat tire, you know. And maybe, and maybe I think, I think most of all is like learning to have respect for some people who do what would be called ordinary deeds in a great way. I mean, people -- people would go out time after time after time, and we're talking about poor whites, blacks, Hispanics. You know, a lot of people I think got out of doing that, so that makes the responsibility even tougher that a lot of people knew that they couldn't go to college, you know. You know, if somebody is eating an ice cream cone and all you have is a paper clip, that's going to change things. So I think maturity, being able to face weird strange types of responsibilities that ordinary people would never, never, never have to go through. You know, maybe go through a fly or something like that but not daily. You know, the respect that comes from seeing how enemies fight you, fearlessly too, and that they have, you know, actually a lot more to lose. But people -- people fight for their country. They're going to whip you, man. Survival, survival skills, in a lot of ways, you know, more than one. You can always apply it to school, to marriage.

Roger Olson:

Now that we're -- you know, a lot of people are comparing the war in Iraq to the one in Vietnam, do you see having had an experience in Vietnam and looking at what's going on in Iraq now that there are lessons to be learned that could be applied now; and politically how does your experience in having served in Vietnam, how did that change your political thought?

Leroy V. Quintana:

Yeah, you know, I think that people could very easily have learned from history with this war. I mean, obviously the fact that you're, that you're -- because we also thought we were liberating the Vietnamese, and now the Shiites are being compared to the communists, so to speak. But I think -- I think if there was, you know, if there was war profiteering in Vietnam, and I'm sure there was, that's nothing compared to what's going on now like Halliburton. I think the issue is they don't want to stretch this war to the point where we win too soon. There's money to be made. Basically I think, I think that's the bottom line is the money. I look back on Vietnam, I'm sure that Nixon had contracts drawn up for the people with the bombs that we dropped in Cambodia and Agent Orange and all that. We didn't know about that kind of stuff, you know, we're not so innocent anymore which is good, but even though we're innocent or not innocent, we didn't learn from Vietnam to stand up and say, No, we don't want this, which is really strange. Every generation changes in the opposite way it seems. So they're being very vocal, we're being very quiet. And you know, people nowadays, I see this in school, are so easily led into anything. It really is pathetic. They're just so easily led. And that's to the people's credit in the '60s that they weren't led, and that it's interesting that -- I look back now and I see some of the film like the Democratic National Convention, these kids took their hits. They took their hits. And when you take hits like that means that you have a pretty good core of strength in what you're -- They took their hits. I mean, the cops in Chicago were merciless, you know. And you know, they just weren't there. They really wanted something out of it. But we don't -- we don't know what we want, and so we let our leaders tell us that we want freedom for these people. You know, we could have -- I think I told you earlier -- given this job to a United Nations peacekeeping corps and be just as well off and have saved a lot of lives, you know. The other thing is the cowboy factor, you know, Johnson, who was literally a cowboy, gave it up. It ate him up, and I think there's some good to be said in that. At least he had some kind of conscience that made him, you know, respond to that. We don't have any conscience. Nobody is accepting responsibility for the death. I mean, we're getting people beheaded, and another American was beheaded today, meanwhile Tiger Woods hit a 96 on the back nine. It's incredible people could be so cold, and it's affecting us in that way. I mean, even if it's somebody's relative, it's like, goddamn, that guy was begging Tony Blair for his life. Man. So that's the cowboy thing in it, and I think -- I think Nixon was part cowboy. Part, maybe all, I don't know, which I never figured that he was though. I think Nixon was the most intelligent guy that came along in a long time, and he really got misguided by himself. He had agendas, you know. He had this personal flaw that just eventually just ate him up. But he was -- he was the smartest brightest guy that came up in a long time. And I don't know, you'll have to tell me because I can't figure out this peace with honor thing. I don't think -- I don't think the people in Washington let him loose on this Vietnam. [Interview concluded]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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