Remembering Frank Wills: North Augusta man who sounded the alarm at Watergate

Frank Wills

Frank Wills' grave gives homage to his involvement in uncovering the Watergate break-in. (WRDW-TV / June 12, 2012)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Monday, June 11, 2012

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, but the man who shined the light on what what happening in the dark has essentially remained in the shadows.

He's the North Augusta man who noticed something small that turned into one of the biggest stories in American history, and he was never really recognized until his death years later.

In a quiet North Augusta graveyard, you'll find a quiet hero. His name is Frank Wills, and his tombstone in the Mount Transfiguration Baptist Church Cemetery reads, "Our native son in 1972 discovered the Watergate break-in."

Wills' discovery is a detail history seems to have all but forgotten.

We remember Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the famous Washington Post reporters who tied the burglary to the white house and to Richard Nixon's reelection campaign.

In 2005, we learned the identity of Deep Throat, the man known as the Watergate whistle-blower. After decades of silence, Mark Felt, a retired associate director for the FBI, finally came forward.

But Wills?

Not a lot of people remember the night watchman whose sharp eye started it all.

"Tape. It was a piece of adhesive tape," he told News 12 in an interview in 1997. He wanted to talk about what he noticed that night at the Democratic National Headquarters. He says it looked like someone had re-taped the door. He got suspicious and called police.

The rest is history, and Wills says he wasn't just left out of that history. He says he was treated like a criminal.

"Blacklisted," he said.

He says he also felt like he was being crucified just for doing his job.

In 1976, he says he got some credit for his role, and was thrilled to play himself in the movie "All the President's Men." However, he says that's the only positive recognition he says he ever got.

He told News 12 he feels like he helped change history.

"I sacrificed a lot," he remembered.

All he wanted was some appreciation.

Wills died three years after his interview with News 12. He passed away in 2000 at University Hospital from a brain tumor. He might not be written into the history books, but what he did is written on a tombstone for our native son, buried next to his mother.


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