When a local businessman and author sent a letter to the late George H.W. Bush four years ago, he made an observation on the way the former president celebrated his birthday.
“When he jumped out of an airplane for his 90th birthday, I wrote him a letter and sent him my book,” said Bill Wellman, 94, of Valparaiso. "I said, 'Don't you think it's a little crazy to jump out of an airplane for your 90th birthday?'" Wellman also mentioned a few notes about himself in the letter, such as being newly wed.
Bush responded, “Yes, I did jump out of an airplane. ... But Bill, I think getting married at age 90 is more risky,” and sent best wishes to Wellman and his wife.
Bush also noted that he looked forward to reading Wellman's autobiographical book, “It’s Made to Sell Not to Drink!”
From wartime experiences to brightly colored socks, Wellman said he's had a unique connection with Bush over the decades. Both men were the same age and both joined the military to serve in World War II right after graduating high school.
When Bush was shot down over Chichijima, a small island south of Tokyo, Wellman was on his way to Okinawa, another small island southwest of Tokyo.
After World War II, both men went to college and played sports, Wellman said.
“Our lives have really followed each other,” Wellman said. “Except for when he went on to become the president of the United States. He's been someone I've admired for a long time.”
Wellman also connected with Bush further down the road when his health was worsening.
“When he got ill and had to be put in a wheelchair, his wife Barbara didn't want him wearing plain black socks and gave him bright socks to wear,” Wellman. “Then people started sending him colorful socks.”
Wellman bought a pair of colorful golf socks and sent them to the former president, to which he responded:
“Dear Bill, the socks passed Barbara's inspection and they passed mine, you did good. Thank you,” Wellman recited.
Wellman has both letters framed in his home in Valparaiso.
Now Wellman wants to send one final gift to the former president. Wellman patented an audio player system, T.A.P.S. of America, which is programmed to play the solemn military tune taps daily at sunset.
“I'm going to ask George W. Bush if he'd like to have the T.A.P.S. System to play where President Bush is to be buried,” Wellman said. “I'd like to send one to him.”