Chandler man’s grandfather forged the GI Bill 74 years ago - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler man’s grandfather forged the GI Bill 74 years ago

July 1st, 2018 development
Chandler man’s grandfather forged the GI Bill 74 years ago

By John D. Lewis, Guest Writer


When I was growing up, my grandfather – who everyone called Mac – taught me an important lesson about honesty. We were in the waiting room of a hospital when I shook a newspaper rack and quarters began to fall everywhere.  

I told Mac about my newfound fortune. He asked to see the quarters and then slowly inserted each one back into the coin box. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t scold me. He simply led by example.

My grandfather was Ernest W. McFarland (1894-1984). If you don’t know the name, Mac served as senator, senate majority leader, Arizona governor, chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, and founded KTVK in Phoenix. Those are just a few of his accomplishments.  

A farm boy from Oklahoma, he came to the state with only $10 in his pocket and went on to win the Triple Crown of Arizona politics.

Mac was down-to-earth, likeable, drank 20 cups a coffee and day and worked across the political aisle to get things done. He wasn’t a celebrity politician and was so plain spoken that the press of the era would call him “Homespun Ernie” or “Stumpy McFarland.”

He overcame many tragedies, including the loss of his first wife and three children to illness within a two-year period – something he would never talk of for the rest of his life.

People that knew him always tell my siblings and me that they loved my grandfather and that he was a workhorse – not a show horse.

One of the achievements he is most remembered for, and that he was most proud of, was his efforts to get the GI Bill, or Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, passed into law 74 years ago on June 22, 1944.

What many today don’t know is the history of the GI Bill.

After WWI, Mac, who had served briefly in the Navy, saw firsthand how poorly vets were treated. Returning soldiers were paid back for their sacrifice with long unemployment and soup kitchen lines. There were few jobs to be had and even fewer benefits.

As a young senator during wartime in 1943, Mac was determined that returning WWII vets would have opportunities to readjust to civilian life to thank them for their service.

An initial Omnibus Bill was first presented by the American Legion which Mac felt wasn’t adequate.  

Working with the Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars,  disabled American Veterans and representatives from education and other walks of life,  the resulting bill included important provisions drafted by Mac to provide educational benefits and zero-down home and business loans to returning military.

For his relentless efforts, Mac, along with the National Commander of the American Legion, Warren Atherton, is considered a “Father of the GI Bill.”

The impact of the GI Bill was staggering.

According to Arizona historian Vincent Murray, from 1945 until 1956 when the initial program ended, the bill served over 15 million servicemen and women.

Based on numbers from the U.S. State Department, approximately 7.8 million veterans took advantage of the educational provisions; 2.2 million of the provisions for business and home loans; 2.2 million were able to attend college; 1.5 million OJT (i.e. journeymen, etc.); 3.5 million vocational; and 700,000 farm training.

The GI Bill generated 450,000 trained engineers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, 238,000 teachers, and 1 million-plus additional college educated professionals. In addition, the VA backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans from 1944 to 1952.  

Today, many call the GI Bill the most successful piece of social legislation ever written. It made education and home ownership attainable by the common man – and not just the elite. Seventy-four years ago, no one could have imagined how Mac’s foresight would end up affecting the nation’s veterans, educational system, and workforce for generations to come.

As the bill’s anniversary draws near, if you, or someone you know, went to school or bought a home through the GI Bill, think of Mac.  

A new book written by Gary L. Stuart, “Call Him Mac”, is being released by the U. of A. Press this September. My siblings and I hope you will take a moment to learn more about our grandfather – a humble and honest man who sought to make the American Dream possible for so many.

Chandler businessman John Lewis is the grandson of Ernest W. McFarland, an Arizona leader who helped create the G.I. Bill.