During the holiday season we reflect on and express gratitude for the blessings and good things in our lives and the people close to our hearts. This Thanksgiving we recognize Willy Wilson and the 40 years he has been part of the DIT family. Willy Wilson is a hard-working, thoughtful man with highly distinguished military accomplishments, and has 40 years of teaching experience and a small business under his belt. As he decompresses in his last stretch with DIT, working as Director of Placement until next July, we revisit his career and celebrate his achievements and history.
Willy was a chief boatswainsmate doing deck work, operating boats, rigging, loading and unloading cargo, and taking on fuel. “ That was the boatswainsmate’s main job, we did all topside work, and took care of the maintenance work.” In 1948, the Navy took all boatswainsmates off submarines, until 1971 when Willy was the first to go back into them.
“What got me into diving was seeing some divers in Newport, RI working on the vessels doing ships husbandry checking the bottoms and the rudders. It look interesting, so I decided I wanted to do it. The Navy sent me to 2nd class dive school in 1957”
Willy worked for eight years as a saturation diver with the Navy on various projects in waters around the world. His hard work and dedication were recognized. The Legion of Merit is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services, and was presented to Willy for work on submarines in Kamchatka during the Cold War, in addition to numerous other decorations including the Bronze star with Combat V, the National Defense Medal and twice recipient of the Purple Heart.
Like many divers, Willy loves the mysterious beauty of the underwater world; he calls it, ‘inner space.’ “You know, people talk about going into outer space, but going into inner space, it’s also different, different than just being on the surface. Things down there… the coral reefs I’ve been diving on over the years – man has started to ruin inner space.”
When Willy left the Navy in 1975, he went to work in the Gulf of Mexico for six months before coming out here and finding a job as an assistant instructor at DIT. And the rest, as you know, is history! Willy has been a cornerstone of DIT since its early days, joining only seven years into the school’s 48 year legacy. “I’ve filled every position here at DIT apart from Financial Aid and the Executive Director’s position. I came here as an Assistant Instructor, worked my way to Instructor, then I was Director-in-Training. I took a sabbatical and worked in Taiwan. Then I came back as a Senior Instructor, and now I’m in placement; I’m getting ready to leave in July. They’ll have to change the website again!” But more than the website will be changing as we celebrate and say goodbye to one of our longest-serving instructors.
Although Willy is preparing to retire, he has far too much energy to merely watch the rest of his years go by. He has a small business called Willy’s Canvas Works. “I’ve got to stay busy, I’m not one to sit in front of the boob tube! I have big industrial sewing machines that I build diving harnesses with, and I’ll still be building those for students at DIT.” So luckily for us, we’ll be seeing him around campus with his quality diving harnesses and products, and we still have a few months to enjoy his time at DIT.
In 1986, Willy left for five months on what would be the most interesting job of his career; repairing the Exxon Valdez oil tanker that ran aground in Alaska. Willy was part of a team that welded on a 155- foot patch to the damaged tanker. Willy says the best thing about the industry is that “when you’re on a diving job, it’s your responsibility; topside is there for support, but you really have to know what you’re doing as an individual.”
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