Vietnam Veteran Marvin William McFall Jr. probably won’t answer if you call him Marvin, since he has gone by the name Bill his entire life. Bill McFall was born and raised in Ohio as the oldest of three children. Growing up with a learning disability, McFall felt his only choice after high school was the military, but he realized the military was exactly where he needed to be. Here is his story…
As a young boy, McFall felt he was a “slow learner” and didn’t feel he was the best of students. He had difficulty reading, didn’t understand why, and neither did his teachers. Unfortunately, McFall had dyslexia at a time when very little was known about the learning disability. According to WebMD, Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects your ability to read, spell, write, and speak. Kids who have it are often intelligent and hardworking, but they have trouble connecting the letters they see to the sounds those letters make. McFall explained that his teachers didn’t know precisely how to handle or work with him, and it became a challenging environment to excel. As a young boy, he turned to athletics and stated, “Sports made me equal to a lot of kids in school.”
In 1966, soon after graduating from high school, McFall was drafted by the United States Army, but with his father’s guidance and advice, he chose to enlist in the United States Air Force. McFall’s father was in the Army during WWII. Bill recalled his father warning him, saying, “Son, all the Army will do is put a gun in your arms and send you to the front lines.” McFall respected his father’s wisdom and decided to pursue the Air Force instead of being drafted into the Army, revealing, “My dad, as far as I was concerned, was a WWII hero. He was in every major battle that WWII had, and he had scars from that which he never talked about, but he was truly a hero.”
After testing for the Air Force, McFall discovered he had scored the highest results in a specialized category regarding jet engines. He recalled stating, “I talked to the Air Force people, and they said I had the highest scores in specific areas. That was a big deal for me to be told that, and I thought, well, I am going into that field whatever it was, and I was happy to do that.” Unfortunately, McFall didn’t learn about dyslexia until he was in the military and realized the cause of his struggles, saying, “I was told I wasn’t a dumb child; it was just that I had a problem.”
McFall was sent to San Antonio for basic training, where all Basic Military Training (BMT) for the U.S.A.F. is conducted at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, known as the Gateway to the Air Force. After basic training, McFall was sent to tech school for six months in Northwest Texas. In Tech school, McFall learned about the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, a military aerial refueling aircraft. The KC-135 was critical during Vietnam as it refueled fighter jets in mid-air. While in the air, the KC-135 positions itself above the aircraft to be refueled while a boom operator controls the boom to deliver the fuel mid-flight.
The remarkable thing about McFall was he learned all of his duties through the help of a supportive instructor who identified that he had a learning disability. During tech school, an instructor went the extra step to arrange for McFall to come to school at night to learn by physically doing the work, and this was after being in school all day. McFall explained, “If I could work with my hands and do it in a fashion that was comfortable for me, then I could do it and at my own pace. I just couldn’t keep up with the reading part, and this was my blessing that this instructor saw something and said this is what you got to do, as many nights as you want to do it, to get it figured out.” McFall stated proudly, “I was going to possibly be something, and it was one of the first times that someone recognized and said we can work this out.” McFall declared, “That finally gave me confidence and was one of the best things that happened to me in my young life.”
The Crew Chief for a KC-135 was assigned a specific aircraft and was responsible for all the maintenance and care needed, such as inspecting, servicing, and coordinating all repairs. The plane never deployed without the crew chief on board, and at 19 years old, McFall was promoted to Crew Chief. McFall had finally figured out how to overcome his disability with the help of an instructor who saw his potential and created an atmosphere for him to succeed. Determined and motivated, McFall started working day and night, and his efforts and hard work paid off. The young man who once struggled in school was the Crew Chief of a KC-135 Stratotanker that he proudly stated displayed “Sergeant McFall” on its side.
McFall spent the next few years stationed at his home base, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, OH. McFall was married to his first wife and could live in an apartment off base. At that time, the base had a strategic air command that is no longer in operation called the 17th Bomb Wing. However, it was essential to wartime operations as they were the first to respond to conflicts. While at Wright Patterson AFB, McFall would receive TDY or Temporary Duty Assignments.
Each TDY could take anywhere from a few days, to a couple of weeks, to several months. McFall spent three months in Vietnam and a lot of time at the closest AFB in Thailand. McFall explained, “Once the plane was in the air, my job was over, and I would get to sit back and enjoy the ride. My job started all over again when the plane landed.” Once a mission was complete, the crew chief once again made all inspections and repairs. His duties when they landed included servicing aircraft systems, including fuel, water, engines, hydraulics, liquid oxygen, and anything the flight crew would report back that needed repair.
There were a few scary moments when they were in the process of refueling a fighter jet, and an enemy aircraft or MiGs were nearby. They would have to disconnect quickly and get the fighter pilots back in action. If the KC-135 was fired upon, they had no way to defend themselves as it wasn’t equipped with any guns. They would try to refuel over neutral territory to avoid combat areas. McFall explained, “Our plane was a giant gas station. That’s all we had were tanks of gas.”
After being honorably discharged from the USAF in 1970, McFall worked for an optometrist making eyeglasses for almost 20 years. It was a job and income that served its purpose in raising a family but wasn’t something McFall was passionate about. McFall had four children with his first wife. After they were grown, he moved to Florida to Anna Maria Island and worked for the Department of Transportation. He loved his life and his second career in Florida for many years. Eventually, McFall married his current wife, Jeanne, and moved back to Ohio to be with her. McFall has six grandchildren from his four grown children. He has been married to Jeanne for the last ten years and is a step-grandpa to her five granddaughters.
When McFall returned to Ohio, he wrote a book called Bulldogs and Beaches about four bulldogs that go out on the beach every morning to serve and protect those who can’t take care of themselves. McFall travels to small book stores to sell his books and attend book signings. He revealed, “From how I started out in school, and to end up writing a book; I always wanted to go back to my high school and tell kids, if you ever get labeled, don’t take that label and make it you. You make yourself what you want to be.”
Near McFall’s home, a park named Home of the Brave built a military wall monument honoring all past and present military members. McFalls close friends honored him by purchasing a personalized brick to thank him for his time in the service. McFall expressed, “I’ve been blessed quite a few times here over the years, and it all could’ve gone another direction, but the military took the lead.”
When asked what he learned from his time in the service, McFall stated, “The military taught me how to just be a good human being, and I think everybody should have an experience with the service. It makes you grow up fast but lets you learn.” McFall continued, “If I didn’t have military service and that instructor, I wouldn’t have this book or be the person I am today.”
Veterans Care Coordination is proud to recognize Bill McFall for his service to our country. We are privileged to have the opportunity to share the stories of our nation’s heroes. Thank you for your service, Bill, and welcome home.