S. Brian Willson has logged more than 65,000 miles on his “hand cycle” in the last 26 years – after a Navy train ran over his legs. The train was filled with ammunition and Brian was peacefully protesting by sitting in a lotus position on the tracks as two other veterans were crouched on their feet next to him. His friends could move out of the way at the last minute, but Brian couldn't.
Mr. Willson stated to me that "We had provided plenty of notice in writing and on the phone about exactly where we would be and what we were going to do. The train at Concord Naval Weapons Station was protected by 350 armed Marines. The large metal sign near our vigil noted the penalty for interfering with federal munitions trains: one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. We were prepared in advance to do prison time."
However, they couldn't have been prepared for what happened next!
Brian continued: "The routine protocol in these civil disobedience actions at that very site was to have the local police remove persons on the tracks before letting the 5 mph trains thru. It was a shock, of course, to learn that the commander of the train crew ordered the train NOT to stop that day, in violation of regulations, routine protocol, and the law. The train was accelerating at 17 mph at the point of impact, more than three times the legal speed limit for the train."
Brian's deep moral commitment began shortly after grad school when he was drafted. He served in the Air Force from 1966 until 1970. Brian stated that, "I was on the ground assessing the success or failure of newly trained pilots who were bombing designated targets when I discovered the targets were inhabited, undefended fishing villages. Virtually everyone present in the villages at the time of the bombings was killed (murdered). I was shocked, and the experiences led to my quickly becoming anti-war -- (or at least) that I was on the wrong side."
When his military obligation was complete, he became a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace . Then, upon completion of Law School at American University in Washington, D.C., he became a member of the District of Columbia Bar.
However, Brian found his legal acumen of little use in slowing down America's war machine. So he resorted to peaceful activism in defense of his humanitarian goals. September 1, 2013 marks the anniversary of that tragic day that left Brian with a plate in his skull and only two prostheses to call legs. He was 46 at the time.
Today at 73, he's still going strong and continuing the good fight. The email update he sent out on September 1, the 26th anniversary of the Navy's calloused attempted murder of him points out that that the US has engaged in “560 military interventions with troops since 1798, and bombed 28 countries since 1945; Syria will be 29.” On that date, he and his wife Becky also cycled to a rally against the bombing of Syria, about which he says, “We were inspired as we met many Syrians and other young people who totally get the lie.”
His book, Blood on the Tracks, tells his story, as does the 9 minute video trailer above: "PAYING THE PRICE FOR PEACE: The Story of S. Brian Willson & The Peace Movement"
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