David Willson, one of the most prolific and accomplished Vietnam War veteran writers, died July 6 at his home in Maple Valley, Washington, at age 79 of multiple myeloma, which was caused by his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
His novels, poetry, bibliographic work, and thirty-year stint as a reference librarian and professor of Vietnam War film and literature at Green River Community College were strongly influenced by his service in the Vietnam War. Following his retirement in 2000, he contributed hundreds of book reviews of novels, memoirs, and poetry to The VVA Veteran, as well as a memorable series of feature articles on Vietnam War poetry and poets, Agent Orange, and other subjects.
“David was one of the smartest, wittiest, knowledgeable, and most productive writers I’ve ever known,” said The Veteran’s Arts Editor Marc Leepson. “I met David in 1990, two years after I read, loved, and reviewed his classic comic Vietnam War novel, REMF Diary, and we became fast friends and colleagues.
“I cannot overestimate the importance of his books, educational work, and his prolific work for us on Vietnam War literature and film. Remarkably, David kept writing insightful and perfectly crafted book reviews for The Veteran throughout his long illness. He only stopped when he wasn’t able to move his hands on the keyboard of his computer, but then sent us a dozen or more reviews that he dictated to his wife Michele. Everyone who cares about Vietnam War literature and film is forever in his debt.”
David Willson was born and raised in Yakima, Washington, and was drafted into the Army in 1965. Trained as an Army stenographer, he served a Vietnam War tour of duty at USARV Headquarters in the office of the Inspector General of the Army on Long Binh Post from 1966-67. That experience became literary fodder for his three REMF novels—REMF Diary (1988), The REMF Returns (1992), and In the Army Now (1995)—and much of his other literary output.
“His REMF Diary series is a very important contribution to the Vietnam War literary canon,” said Willson’s longtime friend, the Vietnam War veteran and novelist D.S. Lliteras. “David owned the depiction of the American rear echelon military culture during the Vietnam War—there is nothing like it in the literature of this period.”
David Willson, who received the Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award at the 1997 VVA National Convention, is survived by his wife Michele and their children Allie and Joaquin. “His loving wife, daughter, and son were his greatest achievement,” Lliteras said. “He lived on their love and care to the very end.”
–July 9, 2021