A Part Of Something Larger Than Himself: Life Under The Stars As A West Point And Olympic Gymnast

Garland D. O'Quinn


Gar O’Quinn was born in July 1935 and grew up in Monahans, Texas, the only son of Garland Sr. and Mona. Garland Sr. had come from Mississippi and ran a car dealership, and Mona was a nurse. During World War II, both Garland Sr. and Mona supported the war effort by working at North American Aviation in Grand Prairie, Texas, building the P-51 Mustang. He inspected parts and she was a nurse at the factory. When Gar was a boy, sleeping outside under the stars was a formative experience for him, and camping out and riding horses were his favorite pastimes. He was also active as a Boy Scout and earned his Eagle Scout. He enjoyed school and completed high school a year early before attending New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) for two years, which he called a “great experience” because he thrived in an institution with order and discipline. He then applied to West Point because he “heard it was free.” On R-Day Gar was impressed when an upperclassman with highly shined shoes told the New Cadets, “Make your shoes look like mine,” with the lesson being “meet the standard I demonstrate” vs “do what I tell you to do.” Shortly after arriving at West Point the gymnastics coach, Tom Maloney, saw Gar and encouraged him to join the gymnastics team. Gar was impressed that someone took an interest in him and eventually became the team captain despite having had no prior gymnastics experience. He recalls eating a lot in the mess hall because of all the calories he burned during gymnastics practice. By 1957, he was the Eastern Collegiate Champion on the side horse, and by 1960 and 1961 he was the national champion on that apparatus. He also was active with the hop committee and scoutmaster council. He describes how Cadets asked him, as a member of the hop committee, to persuade prospective dance partners to add their names to a dance card. Upon graduation he commissioned as a signal corps officer, but his first assignment as a Lieutenant was training for the Olympics at the Academy under Tom Maloney. The coach brought in friends who had been Olympic gymnasts to help Gar focus and improve his skills. He describes making the first cut of 13, going to Colorado Springs for more training at the brand-new Air Force Academy, and making the final cut to travel to Rome. Gymnastics were held in the historic Roman Baths of Caracalla. Even though the Russians and Japanese were the best, “we did pretty good.” He recalls trading pins with other athletes and the sense of pride he felt during the opening ceremonies. After the Olympics, he left the Army in 1961 and began a career in physical education, teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Texas at El Paso until his retirement in 2005. He is very proud of his efforts to get children involved in athletics to keep them active. In 2023, he was inducted into the Army Sports Hall of Fame. Reflecting on his service to the nation, he states, “Life means more if we care about and love people.” He appreciates being a part of the Olympic team because he was able to travel the world and interact with other people. Finally, having punctuated the interview with fond memories of his time at the Academy, he reflects on West Point, saying “I loved that place.”


topics Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie Army Athletics Life After Military West Point History U.S. Olympic Team
interviewer David Siry
date 18 June 2024


name Garland D. O'Quinn
institution USMA
graduation year 1958
service Signal Corps
unit USCC
specialty 1960 Olympics Gymnastics Team
service dates 1958 1961