Billy Wills and the guitar that brought him through life
By Shaun Kernahan; courtesy photos
Billy Wills was 12 years old when his dad went to the local pawn shop and picked up a secondhand guitar. Over the next 18 months, Billy learned to play that guitar, strumming songs by The Byrds, Herman’s Hermits and The Beatles. That guitar helped make Billy popular in junior high and high school, as he played for his friends and for the girls.
After high school, that guitar was played with a bit more twang, as Billy learned to play Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty. Eventually, Billy packed that guitar up and brought it with him to San Diego. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton for training in the U.S. Marine Corps. After Billy finished his training to become an 0311 rifleman, that guitar was there and stayed with him as he boarded a plane at Travis Air Force Base and took off for Okinawa, Japan.
Playing shows was one of the ways Billy and that guitar passed time in Okinawa. When the time came to head to Vietnam, well, “You can’t carry a guitar out there in the jungle.” That guitar waited in storage while Billy went off to fight the Viet Cong. After Billy came back, that guitar was taken out of storage, dusted off, and again entertained the servicemen in Okinawa. Their reunion was brief. Billy was selected to return for a second tour. Billy came back a little different this time. He had wounds that earned him the disabled veteran license plate displayed on his truck and motorcycle.
War wounds didn’t stop Billy from picking up that guitar. It went with him back to the states and followed him through college. That guitar joined Billy and played clubs in Colorado Springs. After one of these gigs, Billy first laid eyes on Rosemarie. “It was love at first sight,” she said. Now, instead of Billy and that guitar it was Rosemarie, Billy and that guitar. The three of them toured the southwest playing shows.
Given the current pandemic, Billy has not been able to play many live shows.
When the Fourth of July came around, Billy did what any natural born performer would do, he opened his garage, plugged in his guitar, and played a show for his neighbors. He had rare bandmates. Kids in the neighborhood joined Billy on stage. He smiled ear-to-ear and said, “It’s all about the kids!”
Recently Billy recorded his first original song, but what lights up his eyes is his new laptop and Zoom account. He now plays shows in his living room and broadcasts live to veterans currently staying in veteran hospitals and facilities across the country.
All these years later, Billy is still serving by playing songs, and Rosemarie and that guitar are there to enjoy every show.