– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –
You may not have heard of Frank Wills, but you’re probably familiar with his deeds. Check out the actions of this security guard who changed political history.
• The early life of Frank Wills wasn’t an easy one. Raised by a single mother in South Carolina, Frank dropped out of high school at 17. When the opportunity came along to be part of the Federal War on Poverty employment training program known as the Job Corps, Frank joined up and was sent to the men’s center in Battle Creek, Michigan. It was a good move for Frank, as he was trained as an assembly line operator, enabling him to get a job at the nearby Ford Motor Company in 1968.
• In 1971, the 23-year-old Wills moved to Washington, D.C., and landed a position as a private security guard at the city’s Watergate Complex for $80 a week. In June, 1972, as he conducted his midnight patrol of the Watergate Office Building, he noticed a piece of duct tape on the door lock of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The tape was stuck over the latch, preventing the door from shutting completely. Wills removed the tape and continued his rounds. On his second patrol thirty minutes later, he saw the same thing, more tape on the same door. Armed with only a can of mace, Wills raced to the lobby telephone to alert D.C.’s Second Precinct Police Department.
• When the police arrived, the officers accompanied Wills to the offices, searching them one by one. Wills later said, “When we turned the lights on, one person, then two persons, then three persons came out, and on down the line,” until five men were found and arrested.
• Those arrested were Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, James McCord, and Frank Sturgis, all who had ties to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. And so began the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation.
• And what happened to Frank Wills? Initially hailed as a hero, he became the focus of media attention. Although some reports said that he received a raise of $2.50 a week, Wills denied it, and quit his job because there was no raise. Seeing the opportunity to benefit from his role in the discovery, Wills hired an agent, who helped him land a role playing himself in the 1976 film “All The President’s Men.” The Oscar-winning movie was based on the work of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who investigated the Watergate scandal. Wills did the talk show circuit for a short time. A 1973 album by Harry Nilsson was dedicated to Frank Wills for his role in discovering the DNC burglars. A 1975 song called “The Ballad of Frank Wills” told the story of the break-in and Nixon’s resignation from Wills’ perspective. The civil rights organization NAACP gifted Wills with a truck and he received an award from the Democratic National Committee.
• Once the uproar of Watergate died down, Wills’ life took a downturn. He had trouble finding anything but minimum wage jobs. He was arrested twice for shoplifting. He moved in with his mother, who had suffered a stroke, and they lived at poverty level on her $450 per month Social Security checks. After her death, Wills lived in dire poverty until his death at age 52. It was a sad ending to the life of a man who had been praised by the DNC for his “unique role in the history of the nation.”