Alumnus always on target

Ed Fell part of BGSU’s 1963 national champion ROTC rifle team

By Matt Markey ’76

The national champions from Bowling Green State University are a very select group. As the title implies, it took monumental achievements to be part of this exclusive collection of individuals and teams that were the best in the land in their days as Falcons.

Certainly, track star Dave Wottle’s accomplishments as a national champion in the NCAA come to mind, as well as those of gymnast Marny Oestreng-Unnli who won a national title in the floor exercise as a freshman, the 1984 hockey team’s dramatic win, a cheerleading national crown, and the football team’s 1959 College Division National Championship. 

Somewhere in the background, however, is another national title that although little known, remains a source of pride for the participants who made up that winning team.  

“We didn’t get much publicity at all at the time, so this might seem like small potatoes to a lot of people, but for those of us who were part of it, this was big stuff,” said 1965 graduate Ed Fell, who was on the BGSU National Championship ROTC Rifle Team in 1963.

“We were a very competitive group with a number of really strong marksmen, and we ended up winning the whole thing,” Fell said.

The Bowling Green ROTC team entered a national championship event sponsored by the prestigious Pershing Rifles military organization that traces its roots back to the 19th century. The format called for each participating unit to receive a number of targets, and then fire their rounds under the supervision of a Pershing Rifles representative. The targets from groups across the country were then sent in for judging and scoring and once they were all reviewed, the Falcons were declared the 1963 national champions.

“I was just a sophomore at the time, and I had come to Bowling Green with no formal background in competitive shooting,” Fell said. His father had been an accomplished marksman who bought a 12-year-old Fell a small-caliber rifle that they used to target shoot at cans sitting on top of a fence.

“But I was never in any kind of competitive environment until I got to BG, so this was all new to me. You hear about natural athletes all of the time, and this sport just came naturally to me.”

One specific lesson from his father, who passed away in the final month of Fell’s senior year in high school, proved invaluable in Fell’s competitions as a shooter. “The biggest thing he taught me is, ‘Son, you squeeze the trigger, you don’t pull it.’ When I got to BG that was a big advantage for me – I was squeezing the trigger while other guys trying out for the team were pulling it.”

Fell grew up in the village of Carroll, southeast of Columbus, and despite coming from a family where most everyone else went to college in nearby Athens, Fell found that Bowling Green was much better suited to his needs.

“I wanted to major in business administration, and I chose BG because it was a very good business school,” he said. “I guess I was the first one in my family to stray, but it turned out to be a great choice.”

With the recent death of his father, it was an especially difficult period for Fell when it was time to head off to college. “It was tough, with my mother losing her husband and her son at about the same time, since I was going away to school. I didn’t have my feet on the ground, but fortunately there were people at Bowling Green that really saved me.”  

Fell said the combination of support from the ROTC program, and his fraternity brothers in Sigma Phi Epsilon, were vital factors in keeping him grounded during his time at BGSU.

“I was truly a lost puppy in many ways, but thank goodness for the ROTC – I threw my heart into that program. Between the folks with ROTC and the Sig Eps, I got my feet back on the ground.”

Fell’s rifle team practiced in the basement of one of the buildings on campus, and while he was at BGSU, the Army started a flight program and Fell jumped on board and was the first cadet at Bowling Green to get his pilot’s license.

“I had always been interested in flying, but what I didn’t realize is that about a year later, I’d be flying helicopters in Vietnam,” Fell said.  

He went into active service after receiving his bachelor’s degree in business administration, attended Armor Officers basic training and then helicopter flight training. By November of 1966 he was flying combat missions in the region around Saigon, where the difficult topography went from the city, to rice paddies, to the highlands.

“I considered myself fortunate to get out of there alive,” said Fell, who logged more than 1,300 hours of combat flight time and was shot down twice during his year in Vietnam. “You grow up quickly in those circumstances. You go over there a boy, and come back a man.”

Back stateside, Fell flew VIP flights out of the Pentagon and the White House before leaving the Army to work as a test pilot for the Night Vision Laboratories of the Department of Defense. He then worked in various safety capacities for the FAA, culminating in his appointment into the government’s senior executive service. After more than 32 years of government service, Fell accepted the position as vice-president of safety with the Northwest Airlines, and then Delta Air Lines systems. He is now retired and living in the Atlanta area with his wife, Evonne, and is the proud father of two daughters and “Poppy” to six grandchildren.

Fell, who has received the Bronze Star, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, 34 air medals, and the Distinguished Flying Cross, will be inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame in May of 2018.

“I’m very proud of that honor, and grateful to the people who helped me and supported me along the way,” Fell said.  

“At Bowling Green, the guy that had the biggest impact on my life was Sgt. Houston who was in charge of the rifle team and served as a mentor and an instructor. He took me under his wing and became my second dad while I was there. Between ROTC and the whole Sig Ep group, especially my Big Brother Bob Lyons, they kept me grounded and gave me the direction that I needed at the time. At some point, everyone needs someone to kind of shepherd them along, and I found those people were there for me at BG.”