An abiding sense of duty led Army Staff Sgt. Thomas McFall to ignore a back injury and accompany the troops he’d been training to Iraq this spring.
“He could have gotten out of it if he’d tried really hard. But they were his soldiers, they were his guys,” said his wife, Emily Herron McFall. “He’d trained them up and he couldn’t leave them hanging.”
McFall, 36, was killed by a roadside bomb May 28 while on foot patrol in Baghdad.
He was born in Pomona and grew up in San Bernardino. A military “lifer,” as his mother-in-law put it, McFall had been fascinated with the military since childhood, playing with toy soldiers and driving to the desert with his father to fire guns.
His entire life seemed immersed in the military. He enlisted at 23. He met his second wife, Emily, when both were stationed at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina in 1997. During Christmas and Thanksgiving, he opened his house to soldiers who couldn’t make it home to their own families. He had intended to serve a full career in the military.
When not in uniform, he was a simple, fun-loving guy, his family said. He spent his free time brewing dark beer, leaning over a barbecue cooking ribs, watching WWE wrestling and the Raiders on television and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Doors. Sometimes he was just content to hang around the house with his family.
“He had the great gift of gab,” Emily McFall said, and an approachable air that made strangers want to strike up conversations with him. “He always had a story to tell. He was just a good guy.”
He had been stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wash., since 1998. In January, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment as a staff sergeant, where he trained a group of soldiers to go to Iraq. Emily McFall said she and her husband were prepared for the worst.
“We talked about the funeral, where he would want to be buried. He wanted bagpipes,” she said. “That was his only request.”
Still, condolences were the last thing she was expecting when the doorbell rang at 7 a.m. on Memorial Day.
“I was thinking: If this is my son’s friends, I’m going to beat their butt,” she said. “But then I opened the door and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ The poor sergeant that had to deliver the news. I can still see his face. He was white as a ghost.”
Thomas McFall was laid to rest with a Guinness beer stein and a Big Dog barbecue shirt in the Riverside National Cemetery, where his grandmother and great-aunt are buried. And as he requested, there were bagpipes.
He is survived by his wife; children Austin, Elizabeth and Matthew; mother April Lemesh and stepfather Chuck Lemesh; and father Thomas McFall and stepmother Sherry McFall. He is also survived by siblings Kathleen Parker, Darrell Lemesh, Darrin Lemesh, Tanya Landeros, James Misenheimer and Kerri Misenheimer; and nine nieces and nephews.