“I was wet, bearded and I think I still stank,” he recalls. He hopped on the Jeep and was taken to camp, where he was escorted to an officer’s tent.
“I walked into the tent and was saluted with, ‘Congratulations, Lieutenant.’ ”
Quinn enlisted in the Army in 1941 for what he thought would be a year. Instead, with the U.S. shocked into World War II by raid on Pearl Harbor, he spent nearly five years in uniform, originally as an infantryman in a rifle company in the Aleutian Islands where, he said, he mostly fought the weather.
In 1941, while going through training at Fort Ord, Calif., he met Kathleen. In 1944, while back in California between assignments, the two married.
“We romanced by letters for a number of long years,” says Kathleen, who was living and working in San Francisco.
Quinn served in the South Pacific, volunteering for combat after giving up a desk job at Camp Roberts, “The hell hole of the West.” While there, he reluctantly accepted a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant.
“I had never wanted to be an officer particularly, but a pay hike and clothing allowance tipped my decision,” Quinn says. “You get better treatment.”
Some of his wartime experiences are seldom discussed. It’s with hesitation that he talks about a Japanese mortar that “knocked me goofy and infected … swelled my eyes shut,” and left a hole in his helmet. “I’d been hit a couple of times. The third time I had to go to the hospital for a couple of days.”
He’s even more hesitant to talk about a battle that left his company commander dead.
Remembering it all
“I remember all of it. He died in my arms. Just one burst of machine-gun fire too late. That was the worst day. There were days after that, but not like that. Lost an awful lot of good people.”
During his final months in the South Pacific sleep was difficult, a result of battlefield fatigue and too much conflict.
“We’d get new, relatively untrained recruits,” he says, “ … and I’d be writing a letter to their next of kin.”
After surviving battles that left many of his friends dead, he was discharged in 1945 as a second lieutenant fighting off and recovering from physical and mental injuries.
Quinn returned to the San Francisco Bay area July 19, 1945, and spent time at Army hospitals.
“I recovered,” he says.