Billy Hicks


Ft. Lewis had a large Replacement Depot where soldiers returning from Vietnam or from other overseas locations were processed for their next assignment.  Any soldier who had not re-enlisted and who had more than six months left was available for short-term assignment on the post. 


As I've mentioned elsewhere, our company needed fill-in labor for our big project, and what we got were mostly sergeants.  My platoon got two of them.  Now, I’d anticipated that sergeants who were short-timers and who were ordered to perform manual labor would have an attitude.  But remarkably that wasn’t the case with our two.  They were very sharp and were happy to have something to do.  I made them both squad leaders.


One of them was a black soldier from South Carolina, Sergeant Billy Hicks.  Billy was an exceptionally smart worker and he constantly displayed a positive attitude.  He’d greet me first thing each morning with a big smile and a sharp salute, and report that his squad was ready and eager to get to work.  And they were; he led by example and his squad really enjoyed working for him.


So it was highly unusual when one morning Billy appeared really down.  For him to be dejected even for a moment was highly unusual; this was not the Billy I knew at all.  I asked him what the problem was.  He said it was nothing.  Clearly it wasn’t ‘nothing’ that had driven him into this deep funk. 


I asked one of the other sergeants what was going on and he told me that Billy’s wife was back home in South Carolina about to deliver their first baby earlier than expected.  Billy’s problem was that he was stuck on the other side of the country with no money because he had sent all his pay home.  And even if he did have money he had no leave left since he had used it all on a visit home when he first returned from Vietnam.


Not wanting to make any promises I couldn’t keep I didn’t say anything to Billy, but I did make inquiries.  I was able to get funds from the Red Cross for a plane ticket for him, and I talked to a chaplain who was able to get him two weeks’ emergency leave.


It was such a pleasure giving Billy the news.  He just lit up with a huge smile and couldn’t stop thanking me.  I told him he’d better come back with a cigar for me.


Two weeks later he returned from South Carolina beaming with pride, and after morning formation he started handing out “It’s a Boy” cigars.  When he gave me mine I asked him what he had named his son.


“We named him after you, Sir.”


“Really?  Well, that’s cool.  ‘Richard Hicks’.  That’s a good, strong name.”


“No Sir.  We didn’t name him Richard,” he said with a broad smile. 


“We named him 'Willis', Sir....   Willis B. Hicks!!!”