2013-04-04 / News

Jamestowner releases book not intended for publication

Bill Sprague’s story can be purchased on Amazon.com
By Ken Shane

Two decades ago Bill Sprague decided to write a book about his life. Now the story has finally become available, and Sprague is quick to point out that the autobiography is no mere vanity project.

When Sprague began his book – “The Extraordinary Adventures of an Ordinary Person” – he didn’t even intend to have it published.

“I realized that I never knew a lot about my own father,” he said. “So I decided that I would write my own memoir for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I started it about 20 years ago.”

Sprague was born in Indiana in 1924 and he had an idyllic childhood. World War II shattered the peace when he was in high school, and he enlisted in the Coast Guard after graduation in 1942. The former Sea Scout knew he wanted to be on the water, but he didn’t want to be on a battleship. After several stops, his Coast Guard duty landed him in Newport.

During his stay in Rhode Island, Sprague was billeted in the armory on Thames Street. His duty consisted of providing security for buildings in the shipyard at night. He was later assigned to a small patrol boat that would monitor ship traffic coming in to the bay.

“There were big submarine nets across the harbor between Hammersmith Farm and Fort Wetherill. They had to be cleared to get through those gates.”

Sprague’s proficiency in Morse code – which he learned as a Sea Scout – was noticed by an officer who suggested he apply for signalman school. Sprague graduated as a signalman third class.

From there a long train trip took Sprague across the country to Long Beach, Calif., where he became a crew member of the newly commissioned USS Corpus Christie. The ship set out for Australia with a stop along the way in New Caledonia. Eventually the ship arrived in Fremantle Australia’s west coast.

Fremantle was the home to a large submarine base and the Corpus Christie was assigned to work with the subs in training exercises.

“We probably had more torpedoes fired at us than any other ship in the world,” said Sprague. “But they all went underneath us.”

When a submarine went out on patrol, the Corpus Christie escorted it to a point near the northern coast of Australia. This enabled the sub to run on the service where it could go much faster than when submerged.

“We dropped them off, they would go on their patrol, and we’d also go back later and escort them back to Fremantle. A number of times they just didn’t show up.”

Sprague was in Australia for about two years until the war ended. As soon as he got back home he got married. He moved to Chicago where he could take advantage of the G.I. Bill of Rights and go to school. One day he happened to see a newspaper ad for a school that specialized in television engineering – even though there wasn’t really any television being broadcast at that time.

After graduating from the threeyear school, Sprague got a job working for one of the three local television stations. There were no national networks yet, but it was clear to Sprague that TV was about to “break loose.”

Sprague spent three years in the early 1950s in television. Then, fed up with union rules, he decided to move to film and got a job as a newsreel cameraman. He spent many years working film production for the TV series “Wild Kingdom.” He also spent 17 years making 30-minute promotional films for the annual Indianapolis 500.

It was filmmaking that brought Sprague back to Newport in 1976. He was on assignment to cover the Tall Ships Festival that was part of the bicentennial celebration. The production was based in Jamestown and it was then that a remarried Sprague fell in love with the town. The couple were avid sailors. Jamestown seemed like the ideal place to pursue their passion. “We were both very deeply into the sailing scene and this was an opportunity to fulfill a dream,” he said.

The couple returned home to Indianapolis where they held a yard sale. They sold everything they owned. By October 1976 they were in Jamestown to stay. They rented a house in the winter and lived on their boat in the summer.

Sprague credits his wife Jane for the campaign to restore the Bomes Theatre in the 1980s. The building had become derelict and Jane started a movement to raise money to renovate it. Eventually a loan was secured and an all-volunteer effort resulted in the reopening of the theater.

Financial problems closed the theater three years later, but the spirit of the theater lives on – not only in the renovated building that is now home to several local businesses, but in a foundation that provides grants for art projects in Jamestown. The foundation was originally funded with $10,000 that came from the sale of the building. These days the fund has grown to $30,000.

Sprague’s wife Jane passed away in 2005. These days Sprague said he is no longer agile enough to climb on and off sailboats. Instead he spends his time reading, writing and playing golf.

His aptly titled book is available through Amazon.com where Sprague reports that it is selling well.

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