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Plant Doctor, Page 3
Geography Bee, 7
An Old Soldier )
Fights A New
Baffle ? On
BY ERIC CARLSON eluding the Bronze Star and Legion of
After 24 years in uniform and three Merit?by noting that many of his comrades
tours of duty in Vietnam, the recent deserved as much recognition or more. They
battle to prevent Martin-Marietta Ag- just weren't in the right place at the right
grcgates from opening a limestone mine time, he said. Or they didn't live to accept
near Southport seemed vaguely familiar to the honor.
Lt. Col. Robert Quinn (U.S. Army-Ret.). Serving in the military in a time when ap
When he heard the company assure coun- pearance and reality rarely coincided gave
ty officials that the mine would not adverse- Ouinn a healthy skepticism about govern
ly effect the local environment, it gave him mcnt, a distrust of bureaucracy and a blood
uneasy memories about the dangers of com- hound's nose for subterfuge. It also thought
placency. lt reminded him of "getting caught him the value of logistics.
in the big blue circlc." The battle against Martin Marietta (round
Back in 1964, Capt. Ouinn was head of an one, at least) was won by assembling data.
Army Special Forces "A Team" unit advising enlisting experts to interpret it and present
South Vietnamese vol- ing the facts over and
unteers fighting guer- flQf ^dSV tO fClttle ovur a8ain to county
rilla forces in the jun- ^ officials, to state reg
gles outside Saigon. pUy wkO *S beetl ula!ors' }? ,he m,cdia
He had arrived early in OS and to the crowds of
the war, back when the hln\A)H thmuoPl 'oca' rcs'dcnts who
Green Berets were still Isil/Wrl Ww ( IflC. attended public hear
betting on who would \A)nli nt n vnnnri/iu in~s ?" thc min'n?
be the KXHh American rVMtt L/J l* oUilLHsLlg proposal. Ouinn was
killed. hunker h\) n rnrket of,cn aPPlaudcd at
The area around lsl?Fll\,Cr Uy (4 t C/L/Vtt those gatherings, but
ASF Camp Bearcat 1^1 sometimes not.
was hot. There were "I didn't mind the
casualties expected boos, i didn't mind
whenever they ventured out on patrol. The
Viet Cong were in such firm control of the
area that they had set up roadblocks to col
lect tolls from passing vehicles. Quinn
would see most members of his team die
within the next year.
Consequently, he was a bit shocked when
he left the jungle for the provincial head
quarters to hear a briefing on operations in
his area. There, in a palatial French villa
with high ceilings and polished marble
floors, he saw a big map of the province. It
had been overlaid with large fields of blue
and a few smaller splotches of red.
The senior province adviser explained
that the blue portions were areas where the
government was fully in control. Only in the
smaller, red areas was there a threat of Viet
Quinn raised his hand.
"Sir, I came here from Camp Bearcat and
you've got us in the middle of a big blue cir
cle," he said. "There ain't nothing pacified
about that area."
"Our information is accurate. Captain,"
the adviser said. "Next question."
Sitting in his office at home in Southport
last week, Quinn recalled how he felt that
day, and how he got the same sinking feel
ing when he heard Martin Marietta insist
that its proposed blasting and de-watering
operation would not dry up wells or cause
sinkholes or threaten the nearby nuclear
power plant or endanger the Sunny Point
military ammunition terminal or the massive
Castle Hayne aquifer or the Walden Creek
"I wanted to tell the county commission
ers and the planning board and anyone else
who would listen: Don't get caught in the
big blue circle!"
Quinn is as modest about his leadership
role in the Brunswick Mining Awareness
Committee (BMAC)?the group that prod
ded the county commissioners into passing a
law banning the mine?as he is regarding
his activities with the Military Assistance
Command Vietnam (MACV).
He deflects praise for his anti-mining ac
tivities by pointing out the hard work done
by others in the movement. He avoids ques
tions about his wartime decorations?in
being called a communist," he said. "You
can call me an idiot if you want. But you
can't hurt my feelings. I've got the paper to
back it up."
It's not easy to rattle a guy who's been
blown through the wall of a sandbag bunker
by a rocket blast. Or who's watched an ene
my mortar shell bury itself in the mud a few
feet in front of him (luckily without explod
Quinn has fond memories of his Army ca
reer, especially about the men he served
with and the leaders he respected. But many
of his reminiscences illustrate the tragic mis
management that contributed to the failure
of America's involvement in Vietnam.
As the troop buildup began in earnest dur
ing 1965, Quinn was sent on Special Forces
missions to other Asian hot spots like
Malaya and the Philippines. In 1967, his
second Vietnam tour took him to the fiercely
contested tri-border area near Laos and
Cambodia, where he served with the 4th
Infantry Division. He remembers taking part
in 30 combat assaults in 30 days during that
In January 1968, President Lyndon John
son declared a cease fire in honor of the
Vietnamese New Year holiday.
"We had seen cease fires before," Quinn
said. "It just meant that we had to pull back
and stay in camp while the VC set booby
traps m> we could go back out and get
At night, Quinn noticed a strange shim
mering glow "like the aurora borealis" in the
western sky toward Laos. When he asked
what it was, another soldier said, "It's been a
long time since you've been home, hasn't it?
Quinn began plotting artillery fire. But
headquarters ordered him to stop to avoid
violating the cease-fire agreement. So. night
after night, they watched the lights as hun
dreds of truck loads of troops and supplies
made their way south along the Ho Chi
Minh trail toward what would come to be
known as the Tet Offensive.
His third Vietnam assignment, in the early
1970s, brought Quinn "full circle" to the job
he was doing nearly a decade earlier Most
American troops had been pulled out and
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? I'lHH Blii# .iihI Mln*? Sht^W of North Gdfoliftai
DISTANCE RUNNER Robert
Quinn (left) competes in the
1982 Columbus, Ga.,
Marathon. Political activist
Quinn (above) works at the
home ojjice word processor
he uses in his efforts as a
leader of the Brunswick
Committee. Public speaker
Quinn (right) urges county of
ficials to enact regulations to
stop the proposed Martin
Marietta limestone mine.
GREEN BERET officer Robert Quinn (without hat) poses with the South Vietnamese troops he advised as captain of a US.
Army Special Forces "A Team" unit in October, 1964. Most of those shown, including the other American, were killed in the
Quinn was once again an adviser to the gov
ernment of South Vietnam.
As part of the "Vietnamization" of the
war, Quinn was implementing a land-reform
program with the Montagnard hill people of
the Central Highlands. One of his duties was
to prepare monthly reports on activities in
his area. Talking about it reminds him again
of his dealings with Brunswick County gov
"One of the reports they wanted me to do
was a whale boat report, telling how many
whale boats were in my district, their condi
tion, how many new ones were being built
and so forth," he said. "I called headquarters
in Nha Trang and told them we wete in the
mountains. We didn't even have a lake,
much less a whale boat.
"'Just fill out the report,' he told me. St) it
was nothing more than an academic exer
cise. Which seems to be the way our zoning
ordinance was written," he said. "The zon
ing ordinance was (county planning direc
tor) John Harvey's whale boat report."
Quinn makes these 20-year transitions
faster than most listeners. He explains that
he is "1(X) percent in favor" of county-wide
zoning, but insists that the ordinance as writ
ten is "a flawed document."
That's a point Quinn tried to get across to
commissioners and planners long before the
recent flare-up over Martin Marietta. He was
one of a handful of people who attended a
series of joint workshops in 1992, when the
zoning ordinance was finalized.
His message then, as now, is that the
county docs not need to allow such things as
heavy mining operations, hazardous waste
treatment facilities, slaughterhouses and
chemical storage operations. And as he has
said over and over again, the zoning law is
the tool that can prohibit undesirable land
"The way the zoning law is written now,
it's like buying the best guard dog in the
world and having all his teeth pulled out,"
Quinn and other Mining Awareness
Committee members were expected to turn
out in force Monday night (March 21) to ask
the county commissioners to overrule a
planning board decision that permits such
activities in the zoning law.
Although he won his battle for a local an
ti-mining ordinance, Quinn's fight against
Martin Marietta is far from over. The
BMAC is also working with state legislators
to lobby the N.C. Mining Commission for a
regulatory change that would set a deadline
for approving or denying a state mining per
mit. Otherwise, he fears the process will go
on indefinitely as the company tries to come
up with more evidence to support its appli
One thing seems certain. Ouinn is not
likely to accept anything short of victory. He
and a lot of his friends were asked to do that
once before and he didn't like it.
It's also doubtful that he will tire of the
effort. As a marathon runner for more than a
decade, he's proven one thing to himself:
Bob Ouinn can go the distance.
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