With Black History Month you hear accounts of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Cyrus Attucks and other historical black figures in America’s past.
I would like to call attention to another hero of our past, but this one is a “Lost American.”
FRANK WILLS: A Lost American
In June of 1972 Frank Wills, a 24-year-old Georgia native, cat loving, high school dropout, had moved north and was working as a security guard. Wills often found himself the butt of his fellow security guards’ jokes, because Wills did something they all found strange.
He did his job.
The other guards viewed their employment as a cushy job, and they were right. Over the years, there had been only one attempted burglary at the administrative center on the Potomac River so their attitudes were lax towards their duties. Not so for Wills, who made his rounds religiously every night.
On the night of June 17, Wills found a piece of duct tape on one of the office door latch bolts, which prevented it from locking. It was not unusual for office employees, during the working hours, to skirt the security measures in order to sneak out for a smoke. Wills removed the tape and continued his rounds.
Thirty minutes later Wills, still on watch, was making another pass along the same corridor and—out of his conscientious approach to his responsibilities—checked the door once more.
The latch bolt had been taped over again.
Wills rushed to the lobby telephone and, even as his co-workers shouted for him to act sensibly and hang up, the young man dialed the police and reported a break in.
The Police arrived at the Watergate building where five men were arrested and charged with breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters with the intent of bugging it.
Thus began the Watergate scandal that would lead to 69 government officials in the Nixon administration being charged with crimes and 48 being convicted.
Among those who would serve time:
John Mitchell, Attorney General of the United States (19 months)
Richard Kleindienst, who replaced Mitchell as Attorney General (one month)
H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff (18 months)
John Ehrlichman, Counsel to Nixon (18 months)
G. Gordon Liddy (4 ½ years) and E. Howard Hunt (33 months) both of whom masterminded the burglary
Charles W. Colson then special counsel to Nixon who would go on to become a Christian author (7 months).
On August 8, 1974 Richard Nixon announced his resignation from the office of the presidency before a nationally televised audience.
Frank Wills changed history. But that change did little to help him.
In the film All the President’s Men based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of the Watergate break-in Wills appeared as himself, and his log entry for 1:47 a.m. on the morning of June 17, 1972 can be found in the National Archives.
But Wills’ life did not improve.
According to one account after the break-in, Wills, who was taking home at the time $80 per week, requested a $2.50 raise. His request was turned down.
Soon after the break-in Wills was forced to settle in North Augusta, South Carolina to care for his mother after suffering a stroke. They lived on her $450 monthly Social Security checks. Over the years Wills would be arrested for shoplifting and for stealing a pair of sneakers from a store and would be sentenced to serve a year in prison.
In 1992, for the twentieth anniversary of the burglary at the DNC headquarters, when a reporter asked him if he would do it all over again, Wills shot back:
“That’s like asking me if I’d rather be white than black. It was just a part of destiny.”
To another reporter he said,
“I did what I was hired to do, but still I feel a lot of folk don’t want to give me credit, that is, a chance to move upward in my job.”
When his mother died in 1993, Wills donated her body to medical research because he lacked the needed funds to bury her.
Wills would lead a life of poverty, alone with his beloved cats and constantly studying in the local library until his death from a brain tumor in September of 2000.
He was 52.
Because one man, in a lowly position, did his job, this nation changed forever. But his example was soon forgotten.
Otherwise if anyone—from the baggage checkers at Logan International, Newark Liberty International or Washington Dulles International, to the FBI, CIA, State Department, Justice Department or the President of the United States—had just done their jobs, perhaps September 11, 2001 would never have occurred.
But for a nail…..
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