Greatest Generation product Robert McCall kept serving when his nation called. At 94, he is a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Since the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020, he doesn’t get out as much as he used to. He spends most of his days in the house he shares with one of his four daughters and her husband on a quiet cul-de-sac in southeast Huntsville. One of the other daughters usually drives him every Sunday to Bicentennial Chapel where he has been a member for decades.
“He has a personal chauffeur,” Beth Williams, 65, quipped. He shares the home with Beth and her husband, Rick, who owns a local plumbing company.
McCall served two tours in Vietnam in a maintenance role, from 1967-68 and from 1971-72. He was a 40-year-old chief warrant officer three when he transferred from Redstone Arsenal to the 128th Signal Company (Depot) in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, in 1967. During that yearlong tour, he was a shop officer for upper-level signal maintenance.
From 1971-72 he served as the shop officer for the 317th Maintenance Company in Vung Tau, Vietnam. He provided electronic maintenance and supply support for aircraft, radar and specialized equipment. He was promoted to chief warrant officer four in late 1971.
McCall received two Bronze Stars, one apiece for each tour. After his first tour, he returned to the then Missile and Munitions Center and School at Redstone Arsenal in May 1968. He retired in 1972 as a chief warrant officer four after 27 years of service, including 25 on active duty and two in the Reserve. From 1972-92 he served as an associate professor of marketing and management at Athens State University.
He’s sitting on his patio with Beth and a visitor on a sunny afternoon. He’s wearing jeans, a checkered white sport shirt and white tennis shoes. The black Schnauzer mix, Huck, makes his presence known from inside the house. “He’s probably 15 years old. So he doesn’t bark anymore, just that screaming that you hear,” Beth said laughing.
Having most of the family around has been a plus during the pandemic. Of McCall’s five children, the four daughters reside in Huntsville while the son lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They would bring a television out onto the patio, along with blankets during a chilly evening, and watch a movie together.
“That’s the advantage of having all those sisters in town,” Beth said.
On Sunday, June 20, Father’s Day, the family gathered at the home and cooked hot dogs and had an ice cream sundae bar.
Until the pandemic, McCall would attend an exercise class at the local senior center twice a week. He still walks every day – unless it’s raining – for about a mile at a park or greenway.
“I’m doing pretty well,” he said. “I don’t really get out to run races, anything like that. But I get by.”
Born in Marion, North Carolina, he was the youngest of six children – four boys and two girls – of Hubert and Meadie McCall. His father worked on the railroad. McCall lived most of his early years in Greensboro, North Carolina. He left school in the eighth grade and initially tried to join the Navy. But his mother didn’t want him to go because he had two brothers fighting in Europe. He got drafted in early 1945. He left active duty in 1947 and entered the Reserve. McCall returned to active duty in 1951.
He received a bachelor’s in business from the then Athens State College in 1972, a master’s of business administration from Alabama A&M University in 1973 and an education specialist degree from the University of Alabama in 1975.
He married his World War II girlfriend, Mildred, in 1947 and she died in 2002. He has five children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His son, Robert, is a retired economist in Chapel Hill. Susan Kirkpatrick, Beth Williams, Melissa Lewallen and Nancy McCall all reside in Huntsville.
McCall belongs to the Military Officers Association of America, the Disabled American Veterans, the Military Retiree Council at Redstone and the 88th Infantry Division Association’s Southeast Chapter.
At the visitor’s request, he shared his key to living a long life.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I think it’s probably a family that supports the older people.
“Wouldn’t you say?” he asked Beth.
“Sounds like a good answer to me,” she agreed.
Editor’s note: This is the 326th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.