It was near the end of the 20th Century when I first crossed paths with the Colonel with the Midas Touch. I was at Joint Reserve Base-Los Alamitos, on travel orders, capping off my day with after-work run on the golf course when he suddenly appeared, jetting by me as if I were standing still.
I took umbrage, my competitive juices stewed, I called upon my collegiate track star memory to catch and surge past the challenger, conscious not to look back as I intuitively knew he would sense doubt, triggering his competitive instincts, encouraging him to come back. But I couldn’t help admire, as I sailed away from him, his tenacity, spirit, and grit—which summed up for me, his love for life.
I’d pass him again, this time in the halls of the Sacramento State Military Department Headquarters–this time he stopped me–introducing himself as the new Senior Army Advisor—on loan to the California National Guard. Since our donnybrook run at Los Al, he said he had inquired about me, learning of running reputation—which prompted me to ask insider peers about him.
“He’s an outsider,” I was told, “Don’t worry about him, he’ll be here only a year or two and then move on or retire.” Well, now that I have 20/20 hindsight, a Cal Guard adjutant general thought differently asking the Colonel to remain on State Active Duty for another year or two, which eventually turned into 10 years—or so. Hence the insiders and the Colonel became locked in each other’s orbit; the insiders supposedly wanting him out, and jockeying him into positions of failure so that he would either get out or burn out; and the Colonel continually turning around, what was thought to be, dead-end assignments, into coveted assignments everybody wanted—and the whispered reputation as the Colonel with the Midas Touch.
Whether he attributed this reputation to a belief in God and the promise of a hereafter, I don’t know. But I would think his source of resiliency must have had a source, and that his reverence for the Declaration of Independence might indicate that that source might be the Creator acknowledged in that Declaration. Leading me to speculate he believed in the Creator who sent his only begotten Son to purchase for us the rewards of eternal life. I don’t know, but I think it’s so.
In part because his reverence for soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen resting eternally. With its military installations, antiquity of military activity, and population of vets, San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties are blessed with a military history of sacrifice, blood, and honor perhaps unmatched anywhere in California; but there was no memorial honoring this heritage. That is until the Colonel spearheaded a two-year drive, bringing his Midas Touch to the “Faces of Freedom” to memorialize them. His tribute to honor those veterans departed from our ranks, who paid the ultimate sacrifice, or gave a portion of their lives, for the defense our country and to attain peace.
When I visited that world class Faces of Freedom Memorial near Atascadero in 2013, I not only sensed the Colonel’s Midas Touch, but took note of what stood out the me: recognition of Cold War warriors, causing me to reflect, “Classic Col. Bill Hatch,” no soldier excluded, none left behind; a Colonel’s Midas touch.
But what I found even more unbelievable than that unbelievable world class “Faces of Freedom” memorial, was the Colonel’s discipline to resist the temptation of loans, tax subsidies, or bonds. A sort of freedom of debt for those Faces behind that Wall of Freedom whom the Nation is eternally indebted. Thanks to what at least I think, the Colonel’s humility to acknowledge his human nature as a citizen trusting the Creator’s Divine guidance, and precepts, for carrying the project through to completion without borrowing a dime.
Now back to the future. It’s 2009, when it’s said that the insiders circled back with a ploy to force the Colonel to retire. Offering an ultimatum, “to leave Atascadero and work in Sacramento” or get out. To poison the well, so to speak, it’s rumored the insiders stocked the Operational Planning Group, offered him, with political lepers, officers once insiders, now outsiders who’ve fallen from grace, and officers and senior enlisted they just didn’t like. It’s up to reader whether or not to believe that.
A pool they calumniated, at least someone said, as those who can’t write, incompetent, lousy planners, required excessive supervision, poor judgment, and just didn’t measure up. “Surely the Colonel wouldn’t take charge of this political leper colony?” they’re reported as whispering. “Most assuredly his legendary Midas Touch will not work here if he does accept?”
But I think it was the Colonel’s innate confidence in God that he accepted their dare. Then with the support of his wife and family, morphed into a geographic bachelor whose Midas Touch was tested in the suspension of time, distance, and space. He brought with him his West Point penchant for duty, honor, and county and a special experience from a South Korea station assignment he called “the pounding room.” Which went on to become known as Hatch’s pounding room. That conference briefing room where each individual planner of Hatch’s OPG sat alone, face-to-face with the pounder, enduring his fire, passion, and intense commitment until the Colonel was satisfied, believed he or she was purified, then blessed with his Midas Touch. So, I’m told.
The Colonel unburied the talents and military professionalism in subordinates that the elite insiders attempted to burry, with gossip and stories. And with his Midas Touch his colony of political lepers produced imaginative, and executable military support plans for disaster and civil disorder plans that kept California at the cutting edge of readiness. I overheard him laugh once and say, “They keep giving me their rejects, and I keep finding outstanding officers. Perhaps testimony of his mission focus for Liberty, and his pledge to look out for the welfare of the Nation’s sons and daughters in the Republic under God; keeping his subordinates united and undivided. With a little justice for them all—it was his Midas Touch.
One would think the Colonel would have animus toward the Insiders, but unbelievably he didn’t. And there’s no indication that he ever did. He was a beacon for doing what’s right, even if he might not have felt what was happening was right. Unbelievably, he bestowed his talents, experience, and mentorship on what some might call is tormentors.
I think it was because he believed we wore the same uniform, served the same cause, and defended the same country, and that right or wrong, we reach consensus, and never lose sight of our ultimate mission. It resonated with me at least, a Stephen Decanter echo: “Our country, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.” And I sincerely believe that in the end, insiders and outsiders respected each other, learned to work together as one, sometimes even acted as friends (okay, more than sometimes)—because of his Midas Touch.
But before this, there was the dream of the Regional Training Center, which is where the legend of the Colonel’s Midas Touch actually begins.
While editor of the California National Guard’s Grizzly Magazine, a general at the State headquarters dispatched me to research using Camp Roberts, Camp San Luis Obispo, and Ft. Hunter-Liggett as a regional Joint Training, Mobilization and Warfighter Center for all the military branches in the Western United States. The intent was eventually to flow in federal and state monies to upgrade all three installations, improve nearby landing strips to accommodate troop and cargo aircraft, and to share military instructors, class room space, and ranges.
When I hit the ground at Camp San Luis Obispo, where the Colonel was interim commander, his Midas Touch had already set the dream in motion. The Colonel had already been networking with Army Engineers and Air Force Civil Engineers. Instead of sitting down for a one-on-one interview with the Colonel about the concept, he was escorting me to sites where engineers were retrofitting barracks, giving facelifts to mess halls, and building a barbershop and laundry matt—mind you, Camp San Luis Obispo isn’t a federal facility, but a state facility that at that time, wasn’t on the state legislature’s radar for appropriations. In my mind, only the Colonel with the Midas Touch could shake the cobwebs off of disinterested legislators’ and apathetic generals.
I’m told that some higher ups were annoyed by the Colonel’s jump start, even though the Colonel had kept them abreast of all that was happening. Well, someone purportedly got uppity, initiated processes that eventually banished his Midas touch to Camp Roberts, ending the Central California All Military Branch Training Center dream, and bringing any further significant National Guard Installation improvements to a screeching halt.
At least one might think. When the Colonel with the Midas Touch arrived at Camp Roberts, he inherited a staff, that was whispered at the time, as “ash and trash.” A cast of officers and senior enlisted who at one time or another offended someone’s political sensitivities—and because insiders could find no wrong in them—were deported to Camp Roberts—so it’s said. The only Camp in the United States named in honor of an enlisted soldier—on barren, hilly, windy desert-like terrain where summer temperatures are known to exceed 110-degrees, had seen very little improvements since World War II. The standing joke at the time was that the best thing about Camp Roberts was seeing it in your rear-view mirror.
But the rustic, austere, and haunted camp blossomed with the Colonel’s Midas Touch. From the Cal Guard’s ash pile Hatch dug up buried jewels inside officers cast aside by a State Headquarters of hundreds, that became the staff willing to do the work of thousands. The Camp came alive as dining halls improved, depots were replenished, and a Warfighter Center rose like a phoenix from a Camp that all assumed had long burnt out. His Midas Touch parlayed a local radio talk show complaint about uniformed troops drinking a beer (maybe two) at a Paso Robles pub, into a hurricane of community patriotism and pride. Why it was the Colonel who called into that talk show to trigger that tempest, rallying local businesses, townspeople, and vets to some lonely soldiers’ cause.
Soon the Colonel was hosting businesses, townspeople, and retired vets, to send off those Camp Roberts Warrior Center vets. And in this remote Camp in the middle of nowhere, where many soldiers may have had no friends and family, or whose family and friends couldn’t reach Camp Roberts, sprung an oasis of friends, families and vets; rolling out barbeque grills, music, and entertainment for troops deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. As well as a few kegs of beer, so the troops could enjoy a beer (or two), have fun, and laughter, before marching off to war—and, receiving a welcome like they had liberated France for those units rotating home through Camp Roberts.
And that staff of mislabeled misfits that the Colonel inherited, his Midas Touch inspired their brilliance, with a strategic plan left over, that with the current National Security Strategy pivot to the Pacific, could make a general’s pipe dream come true. Waiting for another Colonel with the Midas Touch to build that multi-military branch deployment center as a jumping off platform for all branches of the Armed Service heading to Pacific Theater exercises and operations—perhaps the Midas touch’s tribute to our armed forces future protection of our Country, and our Flag against all enemies—if God so wills it.
I imagine that Colonel with the Midas touch knew how many of those soldiers mustering for war at Camp Roberts felt, since he too had passed through that valley of the shadow of death. An Apache Attack Helicopter Battalion Commander with the 3-1 Night Eagles, 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division providing top cover and raining death and destruction upon the Republican Guard on the Highway of Death during Desert Storm in 1991.
Although I recall the former Battalion Commander sharing his observations of the panoramic array of the overwhelming tank, artillery, infantry, and air power from where he sat up high, what stuck with me was how proud he was that he brought his entire battalion home to their wives and families in better physical, mental, and emotional shape than they were before they deployed—as I recall. Obliviously, testament to his devotion to the character of the men and women who molded and made this country great.
Now I digress here to share a story I heard about one of those political pariahs thrust into Hatch’s domain. As this officer related to me, the inner circles had been hounding him unmercifully, handing him a letter of resignation weekly, pressuring him to sign it. Humiliating him constantly by inviting witnesses to counseling sessions solely for the purpose of embarrassing him.
My friend related to me that by either Divine Intervention, or circumstance, supervisors couldn’t seal a case against him. Passing him off to an incoming supervisor named Hatch who was supposedly told to seal his fate. Well, as this officer said to me, he was a prayer, or maybe it was a hostile work environment that compelled him to become a prayer–I am unsure–and each morning he petitioned the Lord to soften the hearts of his enemies so he could do his daily work. For added insurance he meditated on the Rosary often, recalling concentrating on the ninth bead, in the fourth decade of the Glorious Mysterious, scriptures of Judith 13: 25, “that Trust placed in the Blessed Virgin Mother does not pass from the memories of men, but ever reminds them of the power of God.”
Now my friend swears that the Blessed Virgin Mother interceded on his behalf, believing Hatch was one of two Colonels who listened to the Mother of God. Insisting that the Colonel refused to pass judgment on him based on rumor and innuendo, and evaluated his performance himself. He thinks his experience is testimony of the Colonel’s honor to womanhood, and his modeling of the faith, love, loyalty, and devotion to the character of the men and women who have made this country great. I’ll leave it to reader whether or not to believe this account. But I tend to agree with my friend for another reason. What always came across to me in my casual conversations with the Colonel, was his love for his wife, how he cherished her, valued her wisdom, and his fierce protection for her and their children.
Now, I can’t see the road beyond the horizon where my path first crossed the Colonel’s, but I’ve read that he was born into an Army family at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. He apparently followed the path of his father, evidently a serviceman who was stationed around the world including Germany and France it’s been said. When the Colonel with the Midas Touch entered West Point in 1968, indications are that it was a tribute to father, for he, too, had given for the defense of our country since he was first-born—and I’ve read the Colonel’s son also followed in his father and served
If there’s a theme here it is this: The Colonel with the Midas Touch was an outsider cast adrift by Insiders to desolate posts long forgotten. He became the Commander of what some ostracized as political zealots, pariahs, lepers, and outcasts. Digging the gems out from inside these castaways that political elites had thrown in a hole, rolled a boulder into, then buried in ten tons of concrete. Leading them on charges that shamed those who exiled them, restoring a Jerusalem, of sorts, where sanctuaries of friendship, families, and friends popped up in Posts others had abandoned. Where love, hope and charity were showered down upon soldiers destined for regions God only knows where, on missions of freedom, security, and peace keeping of which their fates, or survival, weren’t guaranteed.
One might say he built a shining war memorial on a hill, waking up the echoes of patriotism, pride, and vigilance of communities shrouded in military tradition, courage, and Heritage. Rallying Central California communities blessed with military bases long ignored or forgotten, giving future hope and prosperity to local businesses who support them. Building the foundation of a general’s pipe dream for Central California Military training Center for all military branches, leaving enough work a future Colonel with a Midas Touch in the event the Nation needs it.
He uplifted what was mislabeled a ragtag group of planners to accomplish what his naysayers said couldn’t be done: creating the operational planning force that efficiently stocked the state Headquarters’ Operations Directorate’s shelves full of ready-to-execute OPLANS that can be triggered into a OPORD with minimum delay: saving the maximum lives, with the least amount of property damage. In short, he was like a Moses leading exiled troops and caravans of forgotten facilities on an exodus to a proverbial promised land, glorying the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along the way, keeping that God we all worship, that’s symbolized on that lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, in front.
The God as seen through the eyes of a Christian citizen, representing our Nation’s acknowledgment of an eternity glorifying the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost. And if I could ask that praying friend of mine who claims the Colonel listened to the Blessed Mother, I’d ask him to pray to Her to intercede this: That the God under which our Nation is beneath, send that the Holy Ghost that descended upon Our Lady and Queen as she huddled with Christ’s Disciples in prayer in midmorning–when it’s reported the Holy Spirit first descended two millenniums ago–be with the Colonel’s wife, children, grandchildren, families and friends who gathered in mid-morning on June 29, and surround them with Love forever. That the Holy Ghost make God’s presence known, surrounding them with love and warmth as they remember the Colonel with The Midas Touch.
Knowing that with God our lives don’t end, but changes, and that Holy Ghost let them feel God’s Love, and in Whom God We Trust, as that husband, father, grandfather, leader, mentor, friend, and Colonel with the Midas Touch passed through that Wall of Freedom into eternity; joining those Faces on the other side who died but now live. Marching in formation in God’s eternal Kingdom, where all their tears have been wiped way, united together as a family in cadence and singing praise to God forever and ever.
It’s not the author’s intent in this unauthorized biographical testimony to canonize the Colonel, or to villainize and demonize any perceived adversaries. God knows we are all broken people because of Adam’s disobedience to God, and therefore God sees us all as sinners worthy of His Mercy. I have taken artistic license (I’m sure my critics will agree with me, that I have little if any artistic talent), dramatizing, or perhaps understating, any turmoil, conflict, or political infighting I perceived at the time, to use as the backdrop to paint a picture of the Colonel’s virtue. That quality for casting aside judgment and mining the gems he saw hidden in his peers, friends and subordinates’–so as to make them stand out—the essence of his Midas Touch. Perhaps one of the most admirable virtues one can possess–for God sent His only begotten Son into the World, not to judge it, but for its Salvation.
*Folding the Flag-13 Folds*
Now, time to fold the Flag. I tried to contact with the Colonel in January 2019, hoping to recruit his Midas touch for a project on which I was working; unaware he was battling cancer. I received a text on May 14, 2019 that the Colonel was in Hospice at the family residence. Not long after, I learned his children fixed the flag pole at his home and posted the Flag at his request. I posted the Flag at my home in solidarity.
Now I take it down, and have attempted to metaphorically fold it in this post. Each of the 13 folds of the American Flag represents a unique American Value for Service to Country–italicized and boldened in this post–explained in better than I can explain it at Military.com.
This author’s final salute of what I believe, is a job Well Done—Col. Bill Hatch; may the Good Lord bless us all with a little of his Midas Touch. The Colonel passed away May 16, 2019, I like to think the Lord has left us the residue of his gift to the Colonel with the Midas Touch.