Frank Wills is the 25-yearold Watergate guard who blew the whistle on one of the nation’s nastiest political scandals. (AFRO File Photo)
For Black History Month, the AFRO presents a series of articles highlighting important local heroes from the paper’s archives. We start off this week with Frank Wills, the security guard who blew the whistle on the Watergate scandal.
June 17 started off like any other hot summer day for eagle-eyed Frank Wills, the 25-year-old Watergate guard who blew the whistle on one of the nation’s nastiest political scandals.
The young, unarmed guard’s attention to duty reflected the kind of work ethic responsibility President Nixon might have offered him some kind of high civilian award for under different circumstances.
As one shock wave after another reverberate throughout the world and President Nixon finds himself suddenly in deep trouble over the bizarre bugging and spying operation his reelections hirelings were using against the Democrats, Frank Wills is a hero who is keeping cool in the face of his new-found popularity.
For the moment, Wills, who has left his Watergate job to take another that pays $5 more a week, bringing his weekly income to $85, isn’t giving out free interviews any more.
He’s moved from the apartment he lived in where he was working at the Watergate and is new telephone was unlisted.
Although Wills already has testified about how he first detected that something was going on wrong in the sixth floor headquarters of the Democratic headquarters before dawn the morning of June 17, he now has a lawyer helping him handle the many inquiries that come his way.
When the AFRO first started tracking Wills, it was through his mother down in the young guard’s native North Augusta, S.C.
A maid at a white funeral parlor came up with the mother’s telephone number.
The mother apparently had got the word. Her son only wanted to be contacted by certain people and after a few minutes sparring during which she never agreed to know a Frank Wills, Mrs. Wills agreed that she’d take the AFRO telephone number and if she did have a relative by that name, maybe he’d hear from hear from her and call.
Wills got his lawyer to call.
A couple of days later he called to schedule an interview and talked for a while on the telephone.
It was lucky for the AFRO that Wills did talk during his telephone call because he later decided to cancel the interview.
What happened in the wee hours of the morning of June 17 is that while making his rounds in the massive Watergate complex, Wills spotted a piece of tape on a door lock.
As it was positioned, it would have prevented the door from locking.
Wills removed the tape and went on about his rounds, taking time out for a sandwich before starting around again.
It was on this tour that he knew he had hit paydirt.
Another piece of tape had been placed on the door lock.
Frank Wills knew something was wrong. He knew someone was inside the Watergate that had no business there.
Because he was armed with only a billy stick and mace, Wills called the police.
This began the saga of the unfolding of a spy drama whose impact and scope may never be known fully.
The police flushed out five spies, some of them former CIA agents.
At first the spying and bugging exposed through Wills’ detection, was played down as just a silly caper by a few misguided and overzealous Nixon supporters.
But slowly, as the tale kept unfolding, the ties crept higher and higher into White House Circles, with the final chapter still to be written.
For Frank Wills, there have been mixed emotions.
He has been widely hailed by relatives and friends as a hero and crackerjack detective.
A few Democrats in Washington and elsewhere have paid tribute to him for his disclosure.
And though he understands he hasn’t yet been accorded the status of a Paul Revere dashing through the night to warn his countrymen of great disaster, Frank Wills apparently is unhappy that his role has not been accorded a more significant place in the unfolding drama.
Still, he’s probably the best known 25-year-old native of North Augusta, S.C.