The name Bud Willis isn’t exactly a household word in spite of the fact that he is to accept the 2012 Distinguished Arts and Humanities Medal for Literary Arts in Memphis on November 9th. This honor was formerly bestowed on John Grisham, Eudora Welty, Shelby Foote and other luminaries in the world of literature.
Many Clarksville area residents know Bud as their stockbroker and manager at J. C. Bradford and Company from 1972 to 1982. His second book, Marble Mountain:A Vietnam Memoir, was featured in a well-attended book-signing at F & M Bank in June, 2011. Bud has been featured on Clarksville Online in “Bluestocking—A Family Story with a Tennessee Heart,” “Marble Mountain: A Vietnam Memoir Is Unforgettable,” Seredipity—An Afternoon with Lee and Bud Willis and Friends,” and “How I met Bud Willis.”
A graduate of Tullahoma High in 1959, Bud is the sixth of nine children. Following his graduation from Tennessee Tech in 1963, he entered the U.S. Marine Corps and attended flight school at Pensacola, Florida and then New River Air Facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina, to prepare for combat aviation. From February, 1966, until April, 1967, Bud was decorated 32 times as he flew 640 combat missions as a Huey helicopter pilot at Marble Mountain Air Facility near Danang, Vietnam.
Marble Mountain:A Vietnam Memoir became the title of Bud’s second book, a coming-of-age account about his life as a young Tennessean thrown into war. Written with honesty and appropriate humor, the book takes the reader through the real day-to-day experiences as Bud and his comrades-in-arms rescue hundreds of young servicemen who have become injured in battle. A defining moment in this saga led to Bud’s appearance on the NBC Today Show with Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb; featured from thousands of entries in a series called “Everyone Has a Story,” Bud’s account of a seriously injured young Marine (missing a leg, an arm, an ear and an eye) who sent a message to the pilot, “Thanks for the ride,” was a television highlight of Veteran’s Day, 2008.
Marble Mountain is not a memoir that celebrates the heroism of the author. It is a picture of the good, the bad and the ugly of war. It reveals that necessity for men to find humor in anything and everything they can in order to face the horrors and absurdity that control their lives.
Tennesseans will also relish Bud’s family memoir, Bluestocking, with intense interest as he describes his mother’s rearing of nine children following the disappearance of her abusive husband. Bud’s heartwarming description of how his family worked together to give every child a promising road to success is not to be missed.
Married to real estate broker Lee Barnes Willis for the past 10 years, Bud is now retired in Naples, Florida, after having served 34 years in the securities industry. With their Coton de Tulear, Boo, who is trained as a PAWS therapy dog to work with hospice patients, Lee and Bud keep a busy travel schedule as Bud speaks to audiences about his experiences and donates a portion of the sale of Marble Mountain to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Bud Willis has spent a life of service to his country and his family. This latest literary arts award is only fitting for an author who brings home from the diary he kept on Marble Mountain how wartime service changes the lives of those who serve.