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Veteran Mel Wilson invents Outdoor Sleeves

91-year-old World War II vet doesn't rest

Air Force veteran makes protective clothing in Lakewood. Photo credit: Gail Wood

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As a 91-year-old World War II vet who once flew P-39s, no one would blame Mel Wilson for just sitting back and doing nothing.

But Wilson, following the old adage "use it or lose it," keeps on doing, filling his days with chores and activities.

"When you do nothing, then you grow old," said Wilson, who has lived in the same home since 1980. "That's why I keep active. I don't want to go to a rest home. I want to stay home and do what I can."

Recently, Wilson's to-do list included phoning Pierce County residents to remind them to vote. He also spent some of his day promoting a product he's helped develop that he calls "Mel's Outdoor Sleeves." It's a pull-over, long-sleeve cover to protect the arms from sunburn.

"Too many people when they retire, that's what they do. They retire. And they cease to function," Wilson said.

Wilson has hardly ceased to function.

"I like to stay busy," he said.    

In 1970, Wilson "retired" from the Air Force at age 46 and settled in Lakewood after living and being assigned to places across the country and around the world.

"This is my hometown state," said Wilson, who was born in Troutlake, Washington, in 1923.

After getting out of the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel 44 years ago, Wilson became a real estate agent and after two years bought the real estate company he was working for. Then after more than 20 years of selling homes and property, Wilson "retired" again in the mid 1990s and got out of the real estate business.

When Wilson underwent melanoma treatment in the mid-'90s, he started covering his arms with sleeves that he had cut off from other shirts. After four plus years of testing and redesigning and improving, Wilson came up with his Outdoor Sleeves.

The sleeves are made with a special lightweight material that allows your skin to breathe while still being fully protected from the sun's rays. Outdoor Sleeves come in a range of sizes while still being adjustable for an excellent fit. They are available in white, natural or creamy beige.

Wilson said people can apply sunscreen to their arms when they're wearing Outdoor Sleeves, but it is not necessary because the sleeves act as a protective guard by itself. A pair of sleeves cost $24.99 and can be ordered by going online to

Outdoor Sleeves are manufactured in Lakewood and Wilson said they soon will be available in a variety of retail locations.  For Wilson, it's about staying busy and about bringing jobs to the area.

"Because I was having skin problems, I purchased some used shirts and cut the sleeves off," Wilson said. "I used those for protections. My doctor said your arms look pretty good. What are you doing? I told her. She said you should market it. And I did. That was eight years ago. I tested them for four or five years."

At age 20, Wilson's military career began when he joined the Army Air Corp on Aug. 19, 1944, and did pilot training at Luke Field in Arizona. During the war, he was part of training missions for B-17 gunners in Arizona.

"We'd make fighter passes at it and they'd shoot at us," Wilson recalled.

After serving duties in Japan flying F-86s, and then in Vietnam as a forward air controller, Wilson got out of the Air Force and began selling real estate in Lakewood.

"It was a good career," Wilson said.

And now Wilson is enjoying retirement by staying busy.

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