GRAND RAPIDS—He's a hometown hero who didn't always get the recognition he deserved, but on Tuesday Virgil Westdale will fly to Washington D.C. He'll be honored for his role in liberating prisoners in Jewish concentration camps during World War II.
"We really didn't have no idea that it was going to be important at all," said Virgil, now 92-years old. Back then, he fought with the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Two members of his unit shot the lock off a compound at the Dachau concentration camp freeing the prisoners.
"At first they didn't want to come out because they looked and saw an oriental face," remembered Westdale, who is half Japanese.
At the time, he didn't think of himself as a hero. This week, however, for the National Days of Remembrance, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will honor his courageous actions.
Virgil's son, Fred Westdale, will be his guest of honor. He's recently learned more about his dad's experience through Virgil's newly published book, but he hopes to learn more about what made his father through the eyes of others. "I'm glad that some of the stories are starting to come out because there's a lot to be learned from it," said Fred. "If you ignore history, you're bound to repeat it."