David O. Villanueva, 70, passed peacefully in the presence of loved ones in his home in Mountain Home on October 22, 2017, after a valiant but difficult battle with a rare form of leukemia.
The years of his intricate and colorful life can perhaps best be thought of in ‘chapters’.
Chapter One began with his birth on February 24, 1947 to Ygnacio and Erminia Villanueva. David grew up enjoying idyllic childhood days in 1950’s “small-town” Kerrville, especially enjoying times spent exploring and having ‘adventures’ on Town Creek and the Guadalupe River. He loved to tell of later times spent in trees he would climb to better hear the music coming from The Famous Door juke joint near home. David loved good music even then! There were good times to be had and good memories to be made and David willingly shared stories about his younger years and how Kerrville “used to be”. He spent a lot of time learning from his maternal grandfather, and honored him by changing his own middle name from Matthew to Ozuna. While yet a teenager, after his 1965 Tivy High School graduation, David was off to attend Angelo State University.
He was to begin his Life’s Chapter Two rather early in this beginning of his advanced education, when he was ‘called’ to military service. Rejecting offers from units that would require more than a 2 year enlistment, David remained in the Army, where he soon found himself a “Point Man” in Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division (also known as “The Big Red One”). History records that David’s heroic actions during one very deadly ambush were worthy of the nation’s honor of the Distinguished Service Cross (and gratitude from both those he saved and their families). But within a couple of months, and very close to the time he would have finished his tour, another Vietnam battle’s wounds were so severe that David was not expected to survive. He would later relate of his resulting ‘near-death’ experience in a Korean hospital. When he was released to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to further recuperate, he wasted no time going AWOL, preferring to recover in Kerrville among family and friends. Months later, after the formal presentation of his Distinguished Service Cross at Fort Hood, the city of Kerrville honored its returning wartime hero via David Villanueva Day – March 11, 1969.
Chapter Two would have lingering effects throughout the rest of David’s life, as back troubles first incurred while playing football at Tivy were made worse by the frequent jumping from hovering helicopters in Vietnam. Eventually xrays would show 5 ruptured disks in his back. Retained shrapnel throughout his body and a removed calf muscle, plus significant scarring would also haunt him through the years. One long-term effect didn’t surface until David had continued his education at both Schreiner College and San Antonio College and was taking junior year classes at the University of Texas at San Antonio. That is when David began to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an affliction that was just beginning to be researched and documented at the time. David soon became one of the first veterans to attend sessions (addressing PTSD) held at the “Vet Center” in San Antonio. Working at Kelly Air Force Base as a sheet metal mechanic, David was a member of VFW Post 76 and it was there that he met his future wife, Mari.
And this led to Chapter Three of David’s life, when he later agreed to assume the full-time management of her family’s large South Texas ranch in eastern Webb County. It was there that he found true ‘peace’ in the wilderness. He was ever proud of his ‘feed bag tame’ quality commercial cattle and his growing of a healthy trophy whitetail deer herd on the ranch, and too his involvement in bringing a large multi-turbine wind farm to the family ranch. A rancher’s life is rarely dull and David would tell tales about his experiences for hours, including the time one of the cows entangled her horns in the propane torch’s hose as he was burning thorns off prickly pear cactus. He could very effectively describe her run through the heavy brush with the propane tank bouncing higher and higher behind her! Nearly thirty years in the Brush Country saw some very good times and memories too but just when it seemed Chapter Three would never end, David began Chapter Four.
In January of 2015. he was diagnosed with a terminal disease that eventually left him too weak to properly run, much less commute to/from, the ranch and so he did what he could to ‘pass the reins’ to others. Although frustrated by the restraints imposed by his health, he continued to try to help by phone – from 270 miles away.
While punctuating his stays in Mountain Home with trips to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he nonetheless very much enjoyed attending annual military reunions of the 1st Infantry Division and the 18th Infantry in various parts of the country. During the interim months he loved speaking on the phone with his beloved ‘band of brothers’ from Vietnam. They would all enjoy his tales of ranching in South Texas .
In recent years, David would enjoy both hearing stories about and/or meeting with his grandchildren and in turn brag to others about same! All of them were very ‘special’ to him.
David consistently helped others who were ‘down on their luck’ and had a soft spot for all animals. He was a staunch Patriot and Warrior who would have given his life for his country, his state, his family. It is all but impossible to ‘capture’ who he was with just words. Although he kept a relatively low profile, those who met him did not and will not ever forget him. Among David’s parting words: “You know, seventy years seems like a long time. But it’s a short time, really.” Maybe so, but for his own time on this earth, David’s 70 years were truly a life well-lived.
Per David’s wishes, there will be no memorial service, so these words will have to suffice. In lieu of flowers – in accordance with David’s ardent belief in education and especially for the children of veterans – please consider a donation in any amount to 1st Infantry Division Foundation Scholarship Fund, PO Box 607, Ambler, PA. 19002. Alternatively, there is also David’s favorite local scholarship program: Greystone at Schreiner University, CMB 6255, 2100 Memorial Blvd. Kerrville, TX. 78028-5697 or a donation could be sent to National Adjutant, Legion of Valor, 3927 Rust Hill Place, Fairfax, VA 22030.