In 1998, Vietnam veteran author Bill McDonald built a website presence for his old Army unit in Vietnam (The 128th Assault Helicopter Company) that also honored all facets of the Vietnam War. That original website started off with just his poetry and prose that he had composed while on his “tour-of-duty” in South Vietnam. That website was named “The Vietnam Experience”. It began as a humble reservoir of his war memories that eventually expanded to include dozens more of his brothers in arms.
The first six months online the website traffic had increased to over 17,000 visitors a month. Eventually peaking at close to 275,000 a month after he participated in the making of the war documentary film (from Arrowhead Films) called “In The Shadow of The Blade”. The Vietnam Experience website eventually surpassed the 30 million total visitors in 2008. They no longer track the total.
Those early contributors to that website whose prose and stories were posted for others to read, were the foundation of this organizations membership. However, in 2000 McDonald created the author organization “The American Authors Association”. That organization has grown to over 2,500 author members. It is open to all forms of genre and to all American authors. This organization was the beginning of the formation of the MWSA.
The first military genre event was the early fall of 2003 in Austin, Texas. The film “In The Shadow of the Blade” was being premiered at the University of Texas to a standing room only crowd of over 1,500 people. There was a party and weekend celebration event with the crew of the helicopter and the film crew along with over 900 guests at a local recreation center in Austin. As part of that big party I decided that a dozen of my military authors should have a presence there with their books. McDonald was asked by the local media what this group of veterans was called; and that is where he came up with name The Military Writers Society of America.
This was the first official MWSA event and presence.
It short order McDonald made it officially an organization and for the first several years of its existence he paid for everything related to the organization including awards, and website costs. He also personally reviewed every book submitted by members. Some years that total would reach well over 300 to 400 books. He was the webmaster, event planner, treasury and organizer. He was the heart and soul of the MWSA.
The early goals of the MWSA were not too complex, provide a safe community where military writers and veterans would be welcomed and appreciated. He did not restrict it to just veterans but opened it up to any and all writers. You were automatically considered if you were a veteran or part of a military family regardless of the genre you wrote. A military veteran could write about anything they wished; there were no restrictions to genre. Part of this was McDonald’s desire to help PTSD veterans through the artistic expression of their prose, story telling, memoir writing, or poetry. In 2005 McDonald helped produce and create a PBS TV Show called “The Art of Healing”. He also wrote a program for the VA in Michigan that was eventually implemented nationwide on how to use not just writing but all the arts for the healing of PTSD veterans. He donated that program and his time and now it is being used in various forms all over the VA system.
It was around this time that McDonald decided to break fully away from the AAA and make the MWSA a stand-alone organization. So it went from being a part of the AAA to being its own functioning organization. Which meant that he was now funding and doing all the work of both organizations. There were no dues and no funding other then his own resources. In 2005 and 2006 his heath took a heavy toll on him. He had several heart attacks and other health issues that actually put him at serious risk of death. He needed help and assistance to keep things going and around this time Maria Edwards came into the picture to volunteer and help out with both time, work, reviews, website help but also with some of the finances.
It was not too much longer that the MWSA had is first conference in San Diego, California. This was the first real gathering of the many diverse authors and writers in the group. Bill actually showed up from his “death bed” and even though great ill was there for the full event and meeting everyone. Those we attended that first conference remember that Bill was able to speak about everyone’s books from memory as he had read all of them. That began the new era of the MWSA. From that group of around 70 members grew a supportive network of volunteers that gave this MWSA new life.
In time, Bill’s health issues were just too much of a burden and he need to focus more and more of his attention on taking care of his life. He made the decision to give the leadership of the AAA to Maria Edwards and to turn over the MWSA to a small group to organize it into something bigger and better. He selected Vietnam veteran Tony Lazzarini to head up the new organization and get it rolling.
Tony established the board of directors and gave the MWSA real structure. It went from a one-man operation to a collective of actual members running it. This new organization had real energy and gave the MWSA greater status and focus. This was a real turning point in the growth of the society. Tony served as the first President of the newly formed MWSA. Bill was able to take care of his own health issues knowing that it was now in good hands.
Those first years found ways to fund the activities of the MWSA by asking for membership dues. It also established elections, formal ways to review books for awards and set up more formal conferences and events.
The second President of The MSWA was Joyce Faulker who began the second phase of improvements and membership growth. Her administration had some very successful writer’s conferences as well. She passed the leadership role over after two terms to author Dwight Zimmerman. Under Dwight’s leadership the MWSA has now been granted a non-profit status by the government.
Bill McDonald the founder has slowly reemerged and is working in the background on the board of directors but is limited by his own health issues to take too active a part in weekly operations of the MWSA. He is currently working with a new Webmaster and is behind the scenes working on membership issues as they effect the society.
Currently the MWSA is expanding its membership and looking for more ways to serve the military community. Each year the MWSA has donated books to the VA hospitals and veteran organizations. In 2014 the MWSA donated over $18,000 worth of books to the VA Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. The MSWA has helped various youth programs and schools over the last decade to help promote writing and patriotism.
In the summer of 2015 the membership rolls were around 1,200 members making it the world’s biggest military genre writer’s organization. We now publish a quarterly magazine - The Dispatches – and an annual anthology written by members. Member’s books are reviewed posted and there are annual awards given. The most prestigious of all is THE FOUNDER’S AWARD given each year.