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100-year-old WWII veteran expects to get his wings back

100-year-old WWII veteran expects to get his wings back
Posted at 5:32 PM, Jan 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-06 13:15:31-05

GRAND RAPIDS-KALAMAZOO-BATTLE CREEK, MI (WOOD/CNN) - It could be a pretty big day for a 100-year-old veteran on Saturday.

It's not only a ceremony to honor his 100th birthday, but that's when he expects to get his wings back.

Virgil Westdale had them taken from him decades ago amidst the paranoia around Japanese Americans during World War II.

Westdale represents an important time in our country's history - both our success as a nation, and our failures.

Born in Indiana to his Japanese father and American mother, Westdale was in college when he took up flying. That was 1942.

"The war was starting pretty heavy. Everybody was leaving, all the guys," Westdale said.

Westdale signed-on to the army air corps as a flight trainer.

But the attack on Pearl Harbor brought-on what these days would be considered paranoia, as many Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps.

Westdale was stripped of his wings, even though his father had been here 30 years and his mother was American.

"But that didn't count. They were only looking at me from my other background, from my dad," Westdale explained.

Then came his new orders...

“It said, ‘By direction of the president, you are transferred from the air corps, to the army as a private,’" Westdale recalled.

As a member of the 442nd Regiment, the all-Japanese American combat team, he took part in some major battles.

"It was the best outfit, as it turns out, in the whole army," Westdale said.

After the war he came back home, went to college and made a career for himself as a scientist, with some 25 patents to his credit.

Even in retirement, he went back to work, spending 14 years as a TSA agent, retiring just nine years ago at the age of 91.

Throughout his life, he's received numerous honors - both as a soldier and civilian.

And despite losing his wings, he never lost his love of country, his sense of duty.

He looks upon the return of the wings he was stripped of three quarters of a century ago,as he has all along.

"Until I see it happen, well, we don't worry about it," Westdale said.

The ceremony for Westdale will be held at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids.

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