Peace activist and former Ashville resident Brian Willson spoke at SUNY Fredonia on Monday.
His lecture, titled "We are not worth more, they are not worth less," was part of an East Coast book tour discussing Willson's published book, "Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson."
The book, which took Willson eight years to write, describes the majority of Willson's life from his younger years to more recently, including a tragic event in which he lost his legs. The cover of the book is a photograph taken after the accident.
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
Author and former local resident Brian Willson spoke at SUNY Fredonia Monday discussing his recent book.
On Sept. 1, 1987 Willson and two other veterans were protesting at the Concord Naval Weapons Station which was the largest weapon supplier "designed to kill people in Central America." The veterans were peacefully protesting on the tracks. Willson was sitting lotus style in between the tracks and planned to partake of a 40-day water-only fast. There was three miles of track at the station that would carry weapons out.
"It was a very sunny day. ... You could see when the trains were coming and the train speed limit was 5 mph. The first train was coming 10 (minutes) before 12 noon. We took our positions and I was sitting in the lotus position. The other two veterans were crouching and I woke up four days later in the hospital," Willson said.
When Willson woke up in the hospital he originally thought he was in jail. The train struck Willson going 17 mph, more than three times the speed limit, causing him to lose both legs below the knee.
Later, Willson found out that he was on the nation's domestic terrorist list.
The train crew operating on that unfortunate day were advised to not stop for anything or anyone. Willson has said he does not feel any anger toward the crew operating the train that day.
"I've never felt any anger toward the train crew," Willson said.
Willson served in Vietnam after being drafted out of graduate school in 1966. Willson originally thought that since he was attending law school that he would have a deferment for graduate school and was in good standing; however, his deferment was not absolute.
"I thought for sure I could not be drafted," Willson said. "I fell through a loophole. A school deferment is only preferential and not absolute," Willson said.
Willson joined the Air Force for four years and was off to Vietnam in 1969. While in Vietnam, Willson realized that he was on the wrong side of the war after seeing innocent Vietnamese be killed.
"It really hit me. I was part of the enemy force. It was that moment that started the path I am on today," he said.
After this experience, Willson spoke out against the war for the next four months while deployed. He eventually was sent back to the United States facing more than 50 charges.
After coming home from the military, Willson passed the bar exam in Washington, D.C., but decided that law was not his chosen path when he began to see all the injustices within the criminal justice system. During the 1980s, Willson worked for a senator in Massachusetts investigating prisons. In 1981, he was interviewing prisoners when he witnessed an attack on prisoners causing him to have a "psychotic flashback" to Vietnam.
"When I got through seven prison doors to my car ... I sat in the car for at least an hour shaking," Willson said.
After that incident, Willson went to a veterans' group for help with his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and wanted to talk about the immorality of war but the support group refused to talk about the political side of the war. After this, Willson worked with other veterans who suffered from PTSD as well as Agent Orange. He eventually traveled to Central America and learned of the warfare and selling of weapons to El Salvador and Nicaragua.
According to Willson, there are four main messages throughout the book: empathy, cooperation, mutual respect and fairness. Another theme from the book is "dignity drops longevity." For book tour dates and locations, visit www.bloodonthetracks.info.