S. Brian Willson was born on July 4, 1941, and grew up pretty much an All-American boy in upstate New York. He joined the Boy Scouts, was on the Student Council at Chautauqua Central High School, and was co-captain of the basketball and baseball teams. Willson joined the U.S. Air Force in 1966, graduated from OTS, and served a six-month tour in Vietnam in 1969 commanding a special Combat Security Police Unit based at Binh Thuy Air Base.
It was in Vietnam that Willson, who, he says, “always had a tendency to fight against authority,” began seriously to question the way the war was waged—a questioning that led to a postwar life as an active “revolutionary nonviolent pacifist,” as Willson terms it in his new memoir, Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson (PM Press, 500 pp., $20, paper).
Willson joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters League, and for a time headed the Vietnam Veterans Outreach Center in Greenfield, Mass. In the mid-eighties he actively protested American foreign policy in Central America.
He is best known, though, for what happened on September 1, 1987, when Willson, along with a small group of protesters, sat down on the railroad tracks in front of the Concord Naval Weapons Station in California. A U.S. Navy locomotive ran over Willson, severing both of his legs below the knee.
After he recovered Willson continued his activist activities. “I no longer travel the world,” he writes. “I don’t want to use the fuel or pollute the skies. But my journey continues. This book is my witness to the wars we have fought against others and that we are now inflicting upon ourselves.” Willson’s web site is bloodonthetracks.info