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Davich: WWII vet wants everyone to tap into patriotism every night

Updated: May 6, 2013 6:24AM



If Bill Wellman has his way, military taps will be played outdoors in public places each night at dusk from sea to shining sea.

But for starters he’ll settle with several communities across Northwest Indiana, beginning in downtown Valparaiso.

“I think this idea will really take off,” said the 88-year-old Wellman, a World War II veteran whose crisp Marine Corps uniform hangs in his home’s “Man Cave.”

Wellman has become well known through the decades for his flashy showmanship and business acumen. He rarely met an idea of his that he didn’t like or he didn’t act on. But this latest brainstorm tugs at his patriotism and vivid memories of hearing taps while witnessing burials at sea off the coast of Okinawa.

“That was 68 years ago, but I still get choked up remembering it,” he told me earlier this week at his rural Valparaiso home.

Last fall, Wellman watched a CBS news show called “On the Road” featuring Don Brittain, 78, of Tacoma, Wash. Each night at dusk, the retired aerospace worker plays taps with his bugle from his balcony, strictly to honor vets and military personnel.

Not many things prompt busy Americans to take a moment of pause during their hurried and harried day, but the somber 24-note taps has done it, Brittain’s neighbors say.

“It seems to move people,” one neighbor said in the show.

It certainly moved Wellman, who talked with the giddy excitement of a youngster when I visited his home, a museum of sorts that pays homage to the Marines, local sports and Hollywood (possibly in that order).

Here’s his “taps initiative” idea: Play a digital version of taps each night at dusk using existing public speakers via a “Profile Systems” timing device that is commonly used to auto-activate lights in parking lots.

“I want to eliminate the human part of this program,” Wellman said.

The relatively low-tech device, which can be programmed to activate itself at dusk year-round, is a product of Whiteco Industries Inc.

“Dean White is my boss,” Wellman said proudly while showing me how the device worked on his back porch.

One flick of a switch and it sounded like we were attending a military funeral. Wellman beamed while it played, looking around to see if any neighbors heard it, too.

“Homer Drew (former Valparaiso University basketball coach) lives behind me and I’d like for it to reach him, too,” Wellman said.

Wellman has already convinced Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas to give his idea a try in downtown Valparaiso, using the 50 or so outdoor public speakers that already play music for diners, shoppers and visitors.

The taps initiative is expected to begin soon, though city engineers still are making sure the equipment is compatible with the existing sound system, according to Tina St. Aubin, executive director of Valparaiso Community Festival & Events.

Wellman isn’t waiting around. He has already contacted other local officials, including Crown Point Mayor David Uran, Portage Mayor James Snyder and Harry VandeVelde III, CEO and president of the Legacy Foundation in Lake County.

“My initial reaction to Bill’s presentation was a combination of emotion and patriotism,” VandeVelde said. “I believe that taps means a lot of things to a lot of different constituencies, from the Greatest Generation who are seeing their ranks decline rapidly, all the way to the vets of wars and conflicts since World War II.”

The Legacy Foundation manages several funds that are in place to support memorial parks around Lake County, he said. The organization plans to work with various charitable organizations with 501(c)(3) federal tax status to see how Wellman’s program supports their mission, too.

“We look forward to working with Bill on this unique initiative,” he said. “We want to support the program where it is appropriate and meaningful, and we will look for ways to serve as a supporting agency.”

Wellman is looking for possible other sponsors, such as American Legions, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and other veteran-friendly organizations. He also plans on pitching his idea to other region officials and to the mayor of Indianapolis, among other decision-makers. He has hopes of it going nationwide someday.

The question is how people will react to hearing the playing of taps while it interrupts their day. The somber 57-second homage typically concludes military funerals, not daylight hours.

Will they stop for literally one minute and pause to reflect about freedom, our vets or our country? Or will they simply ignore it and continue with their evening?

Is it asking too much to do such a thing? Will those who don’t pause be looked at with scorn? Will it become a temporary fad that gets trampled by the march of daily duty? Or will it showcase Valparaiso, for starters, as a destination city for its nightly gesture to patriotism?

Personally, I’m all for the idea. But, to be perfectly candid, I’m curious about people’s response, or lack thereof, for that one minute of the day. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know.

Have a cigar

Attention cigar smokers, booze drinkers, and fun-seekers: On my Casual Fridays radio show today, I will be giving away two tickets to the Midwest Smoke Out on April 25 at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.

The event is among the biggest cigar shows in the country — tickets are a $150 value — and we’ll chat with its organizer, Andrea Pearman.

I attended last year’s show, and it’s pretty much every guy’s dream event: Flowing booze, a haze of cigar smoke, loud music and scantily clad women at every booth.

Tune in today between noon and 1 pm at 89.1-FM, streaming at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org. Call in about 12:30 p.m. for your chance to win a free ticket at (219) 769-9577. For more info, visit http://www.midwests
mokeout.com/

‘Stars Over Valpo’

Tickets still are available for Sunday night’s “Stars Over Valpo” event at Valparaiso University, featuring two dozen fast-paced performances, including musicians “Chris & Lou”, “Captain Ambivalent,” “Shades of Gray,” Chad Clifford and Valpo Mayor Jon Costas.

The family-friendly fundraising benefit, which begins at 6 p.m., is for community radio station WVLP (98.3-FM). Tickets are $15 and can purchased by calling the station at (219) 476-9000.



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