Virgil Westdale: Farm Boy, Pilot, Soldier, Inventor, Author, and Gentleman

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States on 2013-04-08 22:13Z by Steven

Virgil Westdale: Farm Boy, Pilot, Soldier, Inventor, Author, and Gentleman

Japanese American National Museum

Esther Newman

Virgil Westdale’s exceptional life story might never have been published had he not attended a Halloween dance. Unsure of what to wear, the World War II veteran donned his Army uniform of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, nearly sixty years after issue and still a perfect fit. On the dance floor, he met Stephanie Gerdes, who remarked, “it’s not really a costume, is it?” After many more questions spanning two years, the two collaborated on Westdale’s autobiography, Blue Skies and Thunder: Farm Boy, Pilot, Inventor, TSA Officer, and WWII Soldier of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Westdale has earned accolades in every occupation listed in the book’s lengthy subtitle through determination, talent and a strong work ethic. But his career path took an unforeseen turn because of his heritage. Westdale (born Nishimura) is half Japanese.

Virgil Westdale was born in 1918 on a farm in Indiana, the fourth of five children in the Nishimura family. Virgil’s father emigrated from Japan as a 16 year-old orphan, arriving first in Hawaii, moving on to San Francisco in 1906 and then to Denver, where he met and married his American wife of English and German heritage. After the birth of their first daughter, the family moved in with Virgil’s maternal grandparents in Toledo, Ohio and then to their grandmother’s 40-acre farm in Indiana. A good harvest of peppermint brought in enough income for the Nishimura’s down payment on a farm of their own in Michigan when Virgil was nine years old. It wasn’t an easy life and the family did without running water and electricity until long after the children were grown…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,