VALPARAISO | If you hear taps being played at sunset in downtown Valparaiso soon, don't think the city administration expects you to turn out the lights and go to bed.
The city is expected to be the first in the nation to adopt resident Bill Wellman's idea of honoring the nation's fallen soldiers by airing the solemn song each evening. Wellman also is the man who suggested the city create a statue of popcorn icon Orville Redenbacher for Central Park Plaza in downtown Valparaiso.
"Bill's a creative guy, and he's come up with a lot of cool ideas for the city," Mayor Jon Costas said. "When he speaks, we listen. This is an idea that's been really important to Bill, and he's been talking about it for a long time to many people."
Wellman, 88, said he got the idea while watching TV last fall and seeing a story about a 78-year-old Tacoma, Wash., man who played taps on his bugle from his veranda every evening for two years. A former Marine, Wellman was at Okinawa Easter Sunday 68 years ago.
He recalled being on a hospital ship shortly after and serving as one of a group of "walking wounded" that helped with the burial at sea of some of his comrades. He was positioned near the ship's rail and saw the caskets hit the water as taps was played for each man.
Moved by the Tacoma man's act, Wellman decided to initiate his own evening tradition from the balcony of his Valparaiso home, but, not being a bugler, he devised a simpler system for his tribute.
An executive with Whiteco, Wellman wondered if one of the company's subsidiaries, Profile Systems, could adapt its digital timing device used to turn parking lot lights on and off automatically to automatically play taps. It took only a slight change to make it possible, and now Wellman wants to promote the idea across the country.
He installed one at his home and began playing taps each sunset Jan. 2. He said, "The ladies on both sides of me love it, but I haven't turned up the volume."
He expects Valparaiso to be the first city to try it. The $500 device is ordered and will be installed with the downtown loudspeaker system that plays music every day. That should be ready in about 10 days, he said. Crown Point and Portage also have expressed interest in installing it at government buildings.
Costas said, "We can't do it every day because we might have a movie going on or something planned. It's a meaningful way to draw attention to the men and women who fought for our freedoms. It's good to take a minute to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have gone before us."
Wellman said the Legacy Foundation also is considering putting it in some Lake County parks.