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Random Thoughts: A Community Conversation with George Newell

George Newell with his wife, Pat

This week, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine celebrates Veteran’s Day by talking with Vietnam War veteran George Newell, who also is president of Chapter 458 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, covering St. Charles County. He is an active member of many local veterans’ organizations and has over 25 years of experience in veterans’ advocacy. Currently, he is working to re-establish the Assistance League at the St. Louis Veterans Home. In 1967, after studying horticulture at the University of Missouri, George enlisted in the military and served in multiple positions. He was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1969. Today, he resides near the city of St. Peters with his wife, Pat. 

What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned?

I guess the hardest lesson is to keep motivated when there are people around you who aren’t motivated. You’ve got to try and get people interested in accomplishing things, although there just seems to be a lot of people that aren’t motivated to do anything … It takes a team to get the job done. It’s not about one person … I’ve been involved in a lot of leadership positions. I was a chapter president, then I became a leader in the VFW Post, and eventually, the VFW District. I was state president of the Vietnam Veterans of America for years … It also led me to a group called the Missouri Association of Veterans Organizations [where he served as chair]. 

What’s the best thing to happen today?

I got to go to lunch with some of my peers. The Vietnam Veterans Chapter 458 had their monthly luncheon. There were probably 20 veterans and their spouses. We had lunch together, talked about what’s going on, just some personal things. We also talked about all the things coming up in the next few weeks … We have a lot of activities going on. 

If you could call yourself past or present, when would you call, what would you say?

Wow. There are a lot of options there. I guess when I got out of the service is when I would call myself. I would have motivated myself to do some things a little sooner. I spent several years bouncing around before I actually got into teaching. I probably would have gotten myself more involved in some things outside my personal life … I would have dived more into the mainstream a little quicker than I did, but it was a transition for me. Now, if you’re in the military, you get out and you do this three-month transition and they have classes. My transition was that I left Vietnam and 98 hours later I was back in St. Louis. I immediately got an upper respiratory infection and was sick for about a month. It was a transition from eating sea rations and being confined, basically, to just one location, and then being back in real life.

What makes a good life?

For me, it’s family. I grew up in a family that was very supportive. After I met my wife, we adopted two daughters … Then, we had a biological child. Watching the girls … grow up was important. Now, I have grandchildren. We spend a lot of our time going to soccer and softball games. Quite a few of them have been involved in dance, so we’ve been to recitals and competitions. Family is very important. I’ve also been fortunate because my brother and two sisters live in the area, so we get together occasionally. That’s my primary focus. Secondly, are the veterans’ activities, which take a lot of time.

What are three interesting facts about you?

One thing most of my peers don’t know is that I’m a genealogist. I’ve been studying my family history for about 40 years. I joined a genealogical society when I got out of the service and I’ve learned a lot of history. One of my ancestors was one of the first settlers of St. Louis in 1764. They were French-Canadian and came from across the shore … Most of the people I work with in veterans’ groups also don’t know about my horticulture background. I did that very intensely for probably 50 years … The third thing is that, at one time in my life, my family did a lot of camping and boating … which was pretty primitive compared to what they call camping now.

George Newell [personal photo]

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