Hometown Hero William “Bill” Scanlan, Jr.
Retired Army Captain
By Ron Aaron Eisenberg
I Did My Duty, But I’m No Hero.
When William “Bill” Scanlan, Jr. enlisted in the Army after graduating from Law School in 1966, he joined millions of American men who would be drafted into the military. It was at the height of America’s involvement in what was a very unpopular war.
Scanlan was born in Brownsville, Texas, in 1942. His family moved to Venezuela when he was three years old. They lived there for about five years, while his dad worked for the U.S. State Department. And then, it was back to Brownsville.
While he grew up in that Texas border community, he went to boarding school at Sewanee Military Academy in Tennessee, following in his brother’s footsteps. From there Scanlan went to undergraduate school at the University of Virginia (UVa). When I told him that was a very prestigious university, he laughed and said, “Back then it was known as a party school.”
After UVa, Scanlan enrolled in law school at the University of Texas, in Austin. “After I graduated from law school, I got married. I had met my wife, Cecil, in Virginia.”
Shortly after his marriage, Scanlan enlisted in the Army. His plan was to go on to officer candidate school He thought his law degree would help. And it did. Following basic and advanced infantry training, his commanding officer, who had learned Scanlon had a law degree, asked if he would be interested in becoming a JAG officer (Judge Advocate General’s Corps). Scanlan said yes.
In late 1969, Scanlan was sent to Viet Nam. His posting there followed the exposé by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh about the My Lai massacre. More than 300 unarmed Vietnamese civilians had been slaughtered by U.S. troops in that small village. Only six people survived. The story triggered outrage in the U.S.
He was tasked with traveling throughout South Viet Nam to give lectures to American troops on the Geneva Conventions, the series of treaties on the humane treatment of civilians, prisoners of war (POWs), and soldiers who are otherwise rendered incapable of fighting. His message was simple, yet powerful, don’t shoot innocent civilians.
He spent a year in Viet Nam. When he returned home, his four-year commitment to the Army was fulfilled, and he left the service. About that time, he told me, he’d read a book by Marian F Novak entitled “Lonely Girls with Burning Eyes.” It was about the struggles wives of soldiers who were fighting in Viet Nam faced back home. “I realized that as challenging as my tour was, it was so much tougher on my wife. She wouldn’t even tell people I was in Viet Nam. Instead, when people asked about me, she would tell them I was on a business trip.”
In 1997, Scanlan and Cecil took a trip to Southeast Asia. They visited Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam. “It helped close the circle for Cecil and me. The people were so warm, welcoming, and friendly,” he recalls.
Scanlan practiced law for decades in San Antonio. He specializes in taxation and trusts and estate planning.
Shortly after we talked, he texted me a note, “I joined two lawyers at UT Law School and we represented 3 detainees at GTMO. They didn’t do anything, and were sent home.” He added, “That is an important part of my legal career.”
The Scanlans settled in San Antonio in 78209. As for his military service, Scanlan said, “I did my duty. And here we are. My service made me realize the value of serving your country. You mature very quickly.” But, he emphasized, “I am not a hero.”
His wife, Cecil, passed away on February 11, 2021. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. They had been married for 54 years. The couple had two children, William Scanlan, III, and Marguerite Scanlan Ogata.