Money is the best deodorant.
One of the many interesting people I’ve become acquainted with during my many trips around the sun, was “William E”. (We shall leave out his full name for the sake of confidentiality)
William E and I were stationed together at Grand Forks Air Force Base (Frost Bite Falls) in North Dakota from 1968 until I left for Vietnam in December of 1969. “Bill”, as he was called, was a “lifer”; a career man in the Air Force, who was on his 2nd or 3rd four-year hitch, I don’t recall which. He was still a staff sergeant (E-5) at the time, which was not unusual as making rank in the Air Force during those years was tougher than getting a poodle to seduce an elephant. (With the exception of persons who served in Southeast Asia) Bill had already served in the Southeast Asian theater and should have been on track for a promotion.
A likable, affable fellow, Bill was given the moniker of “Motormouth”, as he had the propensity to jabber non-stop throughout the day. After a hard scrabble upbringing in the rural south, Bill had joined the Air Force where he found a home. He was married, with two or three kids, and another on the way. (He didn’t talk all the time)
I made several close friends during my “NoDak” days, and Bill was one of them. Besides talking, he liked to hunt, fish, and have a beer or two off-duty, and our little bunch partook in those activities as often as we could. Bill and his family lived in base housing and I enjoyed many cook-outs at their little home. It was always nice to spend time away from the barracks when you could, and Bill and his wife were kind enough to have many of us over throughout the year.
Bill’s excessive talking was irritating at times, and we all gave him the business about it, which he took good-naturedly. Unfortunately, the habit did not put him in the good graces of the upper echelon, which may have been one of the reasons he was on, or close to his 3rd term and still an E-5.
Our OIC (Officer in Charge) at the time, was a young lieutenant; a nice guy who was easy to work with and took care of his troops. The LT had Bill in his office many times, discussing the problems he created with his gabbiness. But it mostly fell on deaf ears; Bill would be Bill.
One day Bill got word that his aunt had passed away, and since he was her only remaining relative, he went on emergency leave to tend to the funeral. Bill was not close to his aunt, and was not even from the same state, but he felt it was his duty to see things were done properly for her.
Bill was away for about five days, and we joked how the building was kind of quiet with him gone. But when Bill returned, he was uncharacteristically subdued. We mostly attributed this to the passing of his aunt, but when his reticence continued for days, we became concerned. The lieutenant suggested I try to find out what was going on, so I invited Bill to the Airman’s club for a beer.
As we sat at a table in the club, we made small talk. After a few beers, Bill opened up.
“Campy, my aunt left me some money”.
I was happy for him.
“That’s great Bill, I’m sure your family could use it.”
Bill gave me the look.
“Uh..What’s up Bill?”
He looked around sheepishly.
“She left me a lot of money”.
“That’s a good thing….ain’t it?”
Staring into his beer, Bill finally spilled the beans.
“She left me three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
(Cut to the sound of me choking on my beer)
“I’m sorry, what??”
“She left me three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
Once I absorbed what Bill had told me, I sat stunned. Though three hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money…any time, three hundred and fifty thousand 1969 dollars is the equivalent of close to two and one half million dollars today. A helluva lot of money!
“Holy sh.. Bill!”
“Yeah, holy sh..”
I had a million (pardon the pun) questions; “what does your wife think”, “when will you get a discharge from the Air Force”, “who’s your best friend”, ? etc. etc.
As my head cleared, I started thinking of more practical issues. Bill being Bill, the cat would soon be out of the bag. I encouraged him to keep the information to himself, as people would try to take advantage. I advised him to consult an attorney, if he hadn’t already, and also to seek the consul of our lieutenant who was very sharp, in addition to being very sincere and helpful.
Bill said his aunt had an attorney, who he had retained, and that he would for sure, talk to the LT about it. We closed up the club that night, and needless to say, I didn’t drop off to sleep right away. I was very happy for my friend, but also had reservations about what may happen, because of his “socially uninhibited” personality. And sure enough, within days things started to unravel.
As I suspected, within a week my exuberant friend had blabbed the story of his good fortune all around. Moreover, he started spending money like a drunken sailor, (no offense to my Naval brethren) spreading it all over the small town of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and a few adjacent towns as well.
The second Friday he was back he told me to meet him in front of my barracks at nine o: clock Saturday morning. Sure enough, Saturday morning Bill shows up in front of my barracks on a brand-new Harley Sportster. I jump on, and we head to town, at about ninety miles an hour. We stop at a sporting good store, a clothing store and a boat dealership. He purchases five pistols, a deer rifle for me, (I tried to beg him off) five new suits, one for me, (tried to beg him off again) and he ordered a brand-new ski boat. We hauled what we could carry on the bike back to the base, the rest he picked up later in the week.
Bill was now an instant celebrity on base, and in town. He was the Guest of Honor at the NCO club every night, where he must have bought hundreds of rounds over the course of the next few months. People he didn’t even know, were suddenly his good friend. I could hardly talk to him, as he was mobbed like Gandhi at a Hindu gathering. Moreover, Bill was determined to remain in the Air Force, a decision that was not very popular with the upper brass. The Lieutenant noted what was occurring on all fronts and spoke to Bill several times, but Bill was like a runaway train, there was no stopping him.
Unfortunately, after a time, the runaway train ran into the mountain. Bill’s celebrity status, and new bank account attracted a few young babes, one of whom latched onto him like a pit bull on a ham bone. They soon became an “item”, so his wife filed for divorce and kicked him out of the house, forcing him back to the barracks, where he was preyed upon by con artists of all make and model.
Meanwhile, the lawyer he had retained bilked him for tens of thousands of dollars, merchants in town screamed for their money and petitioned the Base Commander, who also went after Bill like a pit bull on a ham bone.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, financial hi-jinks were carried out by another Airman on base who, incredibly, shared the exact same name and rank as our William E! He assumed our Bill’s identity and laid paper all over town, greatly multiplying “Real” Bills problems. I learned later that it took years for Bill to resolve that particular mess alone.
I left Grand Forks in December of 1969, on my way to Vietnam where I would have many “adventures” of my own. I corresponded with Bill for much of that year, and fortunately he got out from most of the financial problems his “good luck” had brought him. He successfully resolved most of his legal issues as well, and reenlisted for another four years in the Air Force. His marriage was dissolved, however, and he was no longer the exuberant guy that I had once known. I lost track of Bill after a few years and have not heard from him since that time.
But I hope he’s had a good life, and was able to once again become the happy go lucky Bill we all knew and loved. 🙂
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