David E. Ott, 81, a retired Army lieutenant general who served in combat in the field artillery during three wars, and who in retirement worked to help military families, died June 21 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

He had contracted Legionnaire's disease at his class reunion at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in late spring.

Lt. Gen. Ott, who wrote "Field Artillery, 1954-1973" (1975), was an expert on field artillery tactics in Vietnam. He was the chief of field artillery and commanding general at Fort Sill, Okla., and commanding general of VII Corps in Germany during the 1970s.

In retirement, as board president of the Army Distaff Foundation, he initiated an expansion of life-care retirement facilities, including homes for military couples, such as the Fairfax at Fort Belvoir and the Army Retirement Residence in San Antonio.

At the time of his death, he lived at the Fairfax.

David Ewing Ott was born at the Army's Schofield Barracks in Honolulu. His father was a brigadier general in the field artillery, and the family lived on Army bases across the country.

He attended Western High School in the District and graduated from West Point in 1944. He received a master's degree in international relations from George Washington University in 1962. He also had a certificate in advanced management training from Harvard University.

During World War II, Gen. Ott was a forward observer and provisional battery commander with an infantry division in Europe.

He served in the Korean War as a battalion executive officer and later commanded an artillery division in Vietnam during the war there.

"All three times he was in combat, he was in command -- at whatever rank he was, he had the toughest jobs with the most responsibility," said Pat Hollis, editor of Field Artillery Journal.

Artillerymen, known as "redlegs" for the red stripe on their uniform pants, are required to be good with detail and yet have a wide perspective. Their job requires them to work with most of the specialties in the Army, Hollis said.

Gen. Ott was considered to be among the best. Along with retired Gen. Tommy Franks, former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, he raised the profile of field artillery within the Army.

Walter "Dutch" Kerwin, the retired four-star general who was vice chief of staff of the Army in the mid-1970s, said Gen. Ott was "very highly respected as one of the good leaders, one of the real leaders of the redlegs. He really made a tremendous contribution to the profession . . . not only because of his knowledge of artillery. Both he and his wife will be missed because they were viewed as a very fine team."

In Washington, Gen. Ott became chief of the artillery branch at the Army personnel office and was the architect of the separation of the field artillery and air-defense artillery.

As a brigadier general, he commanded U.S. Army forces in Thailand, followed by an assignment as the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the Pentagon. Later, he became the director of the Vietnam Task Force, an agency that was created to coordinate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam.

From 1973 to 1976, Gen. Ott served at Fort Sill as the chief of field artillery, commandant of the field artillery school and commanding general of the field artillery center.

He was promoted to lieutenant general for his final assignment as commander of VII Corps in Germany in 1976.

At the time, he spoke about the improved combat readiness of the 200,000-man U.S. 7th Army in Europe. "It hardly seems like the same Army" from the post-Vietnam War disarray, he told The Washington Post.

"Racial tensions today are as low as I've ever seen them in the Army since it was integrated in 1951," he added. "The potential, however, is there. We do have an occasional flareup . . . like a barroom brawl . . . but these are very limited, and we've developed programs to prevent this and keep each other aware."

After retirement in 1978, Gen. Ott worked for Teledyne Systems and, later, served as a consultant for a wide range of military equipment and development programs.

He was active in volunteer work, supporting his late wife with her work organizing the first Army Family Symposium. He also helped form the Field Artillery Association chapter in the Washington area, the Capital Cannoneers. He was the chapter's first president and served on the board and as an adviser.

Gen. Ott was a former president and board chairman of the U.S. Field Artillery Association. In 1986, the association honored him with a musical tattoo.

His military decorations included three awards of the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in Thailand, at the Pentagon and in VII Corps; four awards of the Legion of Merit; the Distinguished Flying Cross; two awards of the Bronze Star; six awards of the Air Medal; and the Army Commendation Medal.

His wife of 54 years, Joyce Helmick Ott, died April 2.

Survivors include four children, David E. Ott Jr. of Vicenza, Italy, Judy Griebling of Golden, Colo., Nancy Leah Dunn of Panama City, Fla., and Leiza Johnson of Anchorage; and 13 grandchildren.