Attorney General William Rogers and President Richard M. Nixon welcome Hattie and me to the Oval Office of the White House in 1969.
History was made in Washington, DC on November 18, 2019, just for the 3rd time in American history a sitting President of the United States of America was impeached, Donald J. Trump the 45th President. The two-acts for impeachment, Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. In this impeachment process all goodbyes don’t mean GONE! The process now goes to a Republican Senate for the final word!
I remember another article of impeachment that took place in the United States House of Representatives on October 30, 1973, against President Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States. It was written that five low-level crooks were caught breaking into the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972. The Democratic National Committee Head Quarters was located in the hotel in South West, Washington, DC.
WHEN A HERO WAS NOTHING BUT A SANDWICH: MEET FRANK WILLS!
As a caddy for Vice-President Richard M. Nixon in 1957 I got the opportunity to get to know a man who would later become my mentor. In 1969 I received a Presidential appointment from Richard M. Nixon the 37th President of the United States. He would go on to become one of America’s most controversial political personalities. He now runs a distant second to Trump.
In 1974 I was just a spectator on the sidelines during the impeachment process. My education relating to the Watergate break-in came from the non-stop news media accounts. In February 2017 my wife Hattie and I celebrated my 60th anniversary of meeting Mr. Nixon at the Burning Tree Golf Course in 1957. I put visiting the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California on my “Bucket List”!
During our rounds of golf and rides to catch my bus, Vice-President Nixon would sometimes talk about his exploits of being a athlete, but admitted he was not that good. These photos captured our “Bucket List” visit to the new library in 2017.
Hattie and me are seen in a library photo of the President wearing No. 12 as member on the Whittier College football team. He also wore No. 23, he is one of five U. S. Presidents to play college football. I am sure if he had not become President–he would have been a sportscaster. Nixon loved talking sports. He was a big fan and friend of Coach George Allen of the Redskins.
My go to guy in the White House and the man who had my back was Mr. Herb Klein. He was the White House Director of Communications. He was the first to hold that position in White House history. Rumor has it Mr. Klein was too honest for the administration. The President felt he could not keep a secret when it came to Watergate and forced him to resign. Wrong Man: The man who could not keep a secret was White House Counsel John Dean!
Mr. Klein had been one of the President’s closest friends since he entered politics in the early 60s. He felt betrayed by his ouster. He returned to the newspaper business and was the editor in the Copley newspaper chain. Shortly after President Nixon died, Mr. Klein contacted me after reading my commentary on my unique relationship with Mr. Nixon in the Washington Post. He was coming to DC on business and suggested we have lunch at Union Station. I could not wait to see him and thank him for everything he had done for me during his tenure at the White House.
When we met I was surprised of how up-beat he was. All he wanted to talk about was how proud he was of me and my accomplistments as a sports radio talk show personality and my community endeavors during my White House appointment. I was blown away. He suggested that I should contact the Nixon Library in Yoba Linda, California so they could add my newspaper clippings, photos and memorabilia to the new rededicated library. He promised he would mail me a contact person at the library once he returned to San Deigo. Several weeks had passed since we met in DC and I had forgotten, but true to his word he did as promised. Mr. Klein died in 2009 he was a class act.
The visit to the library was an eye opener. Mr. Klein was nowhere to be found in the library and neither was my friend Art Fletcher! Art was the Assistant Secretary of labor for the admistration. He was known as “The Father of Affirmative Action”. Art was the architect of ‘The Philadephia Plan’. The plan required government contractors in Philadephia to hire minority workers. Art’s life was threaten several times while trying to implement the plan. When things got heated Nixon moved him out of the Labor Department, Art was nobody’s ‘House Negro’. When he headed the Negro College Fund he was given credit for helping to coin the phrase ‘A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste’.
During my visit I discovered the many high and low lights of President’s Nixon remarkable life. Most were on display for public consumption. Further enlightement came from the movie “All the President’s Men”, spotlighting the two so-called hero reporters of the Washington Post, Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein, The February Group, “Our Nixon” aired on CNN in June of 2017 and the 2017 release of “Mark Felt—The Man That Brought Down the White House”. The story is based on the FBI Associate Director known as “Deep Throat” who leaked information to the Washington Post. He was also considered a hero.
There were many unbelievable moments written about the Watergate break-in. The saddest moment for me was when I read the way the only black involved and real hero Frank Wills was treated. Wills was the security guard who uncovered the break-in.
During the investigation President Nixon famous last words, “I am not a crook” but the real crooks were caught ‘Red Handed’ in three piece suits. They defined the definition of ‘White Collar Crime’, after serving minimum sentences in jail they returned to civilian life to find jobs and opportunities galore waiting for them. The Washington Post, and the Democrats saw nothing heroic about Frank Wills and he died broke and homeless!
American history and many others have forgotten the real hero was a man that broke the case wide open. Frank was a twenty-four-year-old black security guard and just doing his job when he discovered locks at the Watergate Hotel had been tampered with and called the police. His life would never be the same.
June 17, 1973, will long be remembered in American politics. The arrest triggered the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974.
On the night of June 17th Wills noticed a piece of duct tape on one of the door locks while he was making his first round. The tape was placed over the latch bolt to prevent the door from shutting. He removed the tape and continued his round. Thirty-minutes later, Wills returned to the door and noticed there was more tape on the same door. Without hesitation, he rushed up to the lobby telephone and asked for the Second Precinct police. The police arrived and turned off the elevators and locked the doors while accompanying Wills to search the offices one by one.
Wills remembered in 1997, “When we turned the lights on, one person, then two persons and then three persons came out, and on down the line five crooks in total.
During questioning the five men revealed what would become the biggest scandal in American political history.
In the meantime, our hero Frank Wills received a raise of $2.50 (equivalent to $15 in 2018). He was previously making $80 a week (equivalent to $480 a week in 2018). He asked for a promotion but did not get it.
According to the NY Times, Wills quit his job because he did not receive a raise. He then struggled to stay employed because media opportunities and appearances kept him away from work, employment opportunities consisted of minimum wage jobs.
For example; the man who is credited for helping to bring down the Nixon White House, John Dean is now known as “The White House Snitch”. Dean an ex-con has an on-going lucrative position as an analyst on CNN cable television. Former White House staffers, Attorney Rob Oldle, appointments’ Secretary Dwight Chapin and others tried to bar Dean from a speaking engagement at the new Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yoba Linda, California in 2009. They failed.
No thanks to Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein’s book “All the President’s Men” Wills became a movie star for a minute, he played himself on the Big Screen. The book relived their investigation into the Watergate scandal. A scene of Wills discovering the tape door latches was enacted in the 2017 film ‘The Post’ directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. He also appeared briefly on the talk show circuit.
Over the next 20 years, Wills struggled to establish and maintain roots and stability while suffering bouts of unemployment. He traveled between southern cities, with some time spend in the Bahamas. He said in an interview that Howard University feared to lose their federal funding if they hired him. A security job with Georgetown University did not last long. He also worked in a failed stint as a diet food spokesperson for legendary comedian Dick Gregory. In the mid-1970s, He finally settled in North Augusta, South Carolina, to care for his aging mother, who had suffered a stroke.
Together, they survived on her $450 per month Social Security checks. In 1979, Wills was convicted of shoplifting and fined $20. Four years later, he was convicted of shoplifting a pair of sneakers from a store in Augusta, Georgia and sentenced to one year in prison. By the time of his mother’s death in 1993, Wills was so destitute that he had to donate his mother’s body to medical research because he had no money with which to bury her.
Only when significant anniversaries of the Watergate break-in occurred did the decreasing spotlight reach out towards him again. In 1992, on the 20th anniversary of the burglary of the DNC headquarters, reporters asked if he were given the chance to do it all over again, would he? Wills replied with annoyance, “That’s like asking me if I’d rather be white than black. It was just a part of destiny.”
That same year, Wills told a Boston Globe reporter, “I put my life on the line. I went out of my way if it wasn’t for me, Woodward and Bernstein would not have known anything about Watergate. This wasn’t like finding a dollar under a couch somewhere.” Wills was quoted saying, “Everybody tells me I’m some kind of hero, but I certainly don’t have any hard evidence. I did what I was hired to do but still, I feel a lot of folks don’t want to give me credit, that is, a chance to move upward in my job”.
Otherwise, Wills tended his garden, made the local library his study hall, and led a quiet life with his cats. Frank Wills died at the Medical College of Georgia hospital in Augusta, Georgia at the age of 52 from a brain tumor.
Wills’ log entry made on June 17, 1972, at 1:47 a.m. is memorialized in the National Archives.
In 1957 I was just a student/athlete attending Spingarn High School in NE DC when I met Mr. Nixon at the Burning Tree Golf Course. One of my neighbors in my NE Parkside housing project Jodie Warr invited me to go with him out to Bethesda, Maryland on the weekends to caddy. I had never caddied before but once I put a bag on my shoulder it was easy.
I remember the day when Burning Tree golf pro-Max Elbin called me to caddy for Vice-President Nixon. I was in dilemma even then. First, I had earned a nice day’s pay for carrying two bags and I was in early with time on my hands. My homeboys liked for all of us to ride back to the projects together. We usually wait for each other to come in off the course.
One of the first warnings that I got during my orientation as it related to Burning Tree was to stay away from Petey Greene. He was a notorious hustler, drug abuser, ex-con, and a card cheat. Petey didn’t come out to the golf course just to caddy, his game was found deep in the woods behind the caddy shack. The game; cards and crap for all the suckers who been out in the cold or sun carrying golf bags all day and thought they were gamblers. He would lay in waiting.
I knew better, but for some reason, I was getting bored waiting for my homies. I decided to take a walk down in the woods and check Petey out. Big mistake, I was broke and back in front of the caddy shack with-in 10 minutes. I borrowed a dollar from Petey for bus fare and Little Tavern 10 cents hamburgers. As I headed back to the caddy shack I heard Petey yell, “See you next week and be sure to have my two-dollars.” He was charging me a dollar on a dollar. I never looked back or went back,
The last people I wanted to see were my homeboys—they had forewarned me. In the meantime, I was walking back and forth between the caddy shack and the parking lot trying to decide whether to look for a ride into town or wait for them.
Suddenly, I hear a voice calling, “Little Bell” and I turn to see Max Elbin the club pro standing with two bags. He wanted me to take the two bags of two golfers who wanted to get in nine holes before dark. I grabbed the bags and started for the first tee. I had no idea who these two men were, but at this point, I didn’t care. They had saved my day.
Several minutes later I see Vice-President Richard Nixon and his partner Attorney General William Rogers walking in my direction. The vice-president introduces Mr. Rogers and the next words out of his mouth are, “Harold, are you ready for an adventure?” Not fully understanding I smiled and said, ‘Yes sir’ but after three holes I understood the remark. His golf balls stayed in the woods and trees more than the birds and bees. On the other hand, Mr. Rogers was an excellent golfer.
I was thinking that since it was so late in the evening, along with the bad golf of Mr. Nixon they would only play nine-holes as predicted, but instead this would turn out to be an adventure of eighteen holes. As we approached the clubhouse on the 18th hole, I notice the lights were on and meant my homeboys had probably left for the long ride back to the projects. This was my first time at the golf course this late without them and a ride into DC.
The Vice-President came out of the clubhouse to pay me and thanked me for my patient and said, “We will see you next time”. Under my breath, I said, “I hope not”. It was now after 7 p. m. and it was the dark of night. There were a few cars in the member’s parking lot. The few who remained were more than likely involved in a high-stakes gin rummy game. The likely hood of me getting a ride into town before 10 p. m. did not look good. I would probably end up catching a ride with the hired help (cooks and locker-room men).
My saviors who had rescued me from going home broke three hours earlier came to my rescue again. The vice-president and the Attorney General came bouncing out of the clubhouse, and before I could say, “Goodnight,” the vice-president had offered me a ride into the town. It had never crossed my mind to ask them for a ride, even though members routinely gave caddies rides into town to catch their buses. The short walk to the parking lot I discovered my ride would be in a long black Cadillac that was as long as the parking or so I thought. I had never been in a car that big and beautiful.
The ride to catch my bus home would be a ride I would never forget.
Mr. Rogers would drive and Mr. Nixon would ride “Shotgun” (passenger) and I would get in the back. When I opened the door to get in the back seat it looked like a hotel room, but I was cool like I had been there before. You must remember it was 1957 and the Vice-President didn’t travel with an entourage of Secret Service Men. It was just him and Mr. Rogers who was a class act. As we pulled out of the parking lot I laid back into to enjoy the ride into town. The best way to describe the ride, it was like “Driving Ms. Daisy.”
In the meantime, as we pulled on to River Road which was the main road leading into DC, I notice the Vice-President had turned in his seat and was checking me out. The next thing I heard was “Harold where do you live in DC, how many brothers and sisters do you have and what school do you attend?” I took a deep breath because I was amazed that he was interested in this little black kid who lived in a NE housing project in a single-parent household and attended Spingarn High School! After I explained who I was and where I came from, his next question put me in my comfort zone.
He said, “Do you play any sports?” I stuck out my chest and said proudly, ‘I play football, basketball, and baseball. The Vice-President looked at me and raised his eyebrow and said, “Are you any good?” My response, ‘I am a starter in all three sports. I play end and defensive back on the football team, I play guard/forward on the basketball team and I play outfield on the baseball team. I then settled back in my seat as if to say ‘How do you like me now?”
He was by no means through with me, his next question made me put my head between my legs, he said, “How are your grades?” Oh no, he didn’t just say that! All I could say was, “Not good sir, not good.”
The last fifteen minutes of the ride Mr. Nixon spend explaining to me how important it was to do better as it related to my grades. I remember him saying, “Your education will carry you further in life than football, basketball, and baseball.”
Now talking about busting my bubble, he was right, but his advice was going in one ear and out the other. I was too busy smelling myself as an athlete. My “One Adventure” with the Vice-President became several more adventures and we developed a great friendship. I was amazed over the years as I read or heard people say how aloof, withdrawn and non-caring this great man was. The golf course was his oasis.
Mr. Nixon and Mr. Rogers were class acts from my limited view. They inspired me to be all that I could be.
Our conversations on the golf course and during our rides back to DC after their rounds of golf were inspirational and gave me hope in those trying times. April 1958 would be the last conversation and the last time I would see the Vice-President. He did something strange when we got to Westmoreland Circle to catch my bus—he got out of the car and wished me well. He said, “Harold, I am going to be leaving the country in a few weeks and I wanted to say so long” and he handed an envelope with a card. We shook hands and he got back in the car and they drove off.
I was left standing at the bus stop with an empty feeling and I could not understand why. The bus seemed like it took forever to arrive, but once it did I went straight to the back and sit in the corner. I open the envelope and there were two fifty-dollar bills in it. This was the first fifty-dollar bill I had ever had. The card read simply, “Finish your education, my friend.” The card was signed, Richard Nixon.
I will never forget how proud my mother was when I gave her one of the bills.
It would be another decade before we crossed paths again. In the summer of 1969, Petey Greene found me standing in front of Ben’s Chili Bowl on U street and said, “Your man is down on 7th Street touring the riot area”. My response was, ‘My man’? He said, ‘President Nixon fool’! I immediately sprinted to the 7th Street corridor to see my old friend, but the Secret Service would not let me get anywhere near him. I tried to tell them I use to caddy for him at Burning Tree Golf Course, but one of them said, ‘Write him a letter’ and I did. The rest is history.
In 2007 Senator Bob Dole (R-Kan) invited me to be his guest at the Hilton Hotel in NW Washington, DC. The ocassion, he wanted to introduce me to The February Group and President Nixon’s daughter Tricia Nixon Cox. The February Group was made up of former loyal Nixon White House staffers that formed after their leader was forced to resigned from from the White House. They would get together every several years to reminisce and pay tribute to their former boss (see link).
The lesson Learned: I could have been a security guard instead of a caddy!