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Virgil William Westdale


Virgil W. Westdale passed away February 8, 2022, at age 104. He was born January 8, 1918, in Millersburg, Indiana to Sunao and Edith Nishimura. He grew up in White Pigeon, Michigan on the family farm lacking necessities such as electricity. Despite difficult times, he, and his sisters and brother all went on to college to earn their degrees. Virgil attended Western Michigan University and earned his private pilot’s license. School was interrupted by the war efforts, and he joined the service where his pilot’s license was confiscated. With his half Japanese heritage, it was at that time that he translated and changed his Japanese last name from Nishimura to Westdale and joined the Army Air Corp. With his new name he continued pilot training and became a Commercial Flight Instructor when he was abruptly removed from the Air Corp and transferred to the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team where he lost his ability to ever fly again.

The 100th Bn/442nd RCT quickly distinguished themselves on the battlefields of Italy and France (noted as one of the most decorated units in US military history, for its size and length of service). Virgil’s unit was the first to enter a sub-camp of Dachau where they liberated the prisoners. He was later honored with the Congressional Gold Medal along with the members of the 442nd RCT and MIS in November of 2011.

After returning home, Virgil returned to Western Michigan University where he earned two degrees. He became a Chemical Engineer at Burroughs Corp. and retired as a Principal Scientist at AM International in Chicago after a 38-year career and 25 patents. His retirement was short-lived and, at the age of 77, he went on to join what later became TSA at the Grand Rapids International Airport. He retired at the age of 91. Not one to sit idle, during that same time he took up dancing. He then co-authored his story in the book, Blue Skies and Thunder. He spent his last years presenting to and educating younger generations and organizations about his experiences during WWII.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Sunao (Fred) and Edith Nishimura; sisters, Lucile Strawser Southwick, Virgina Sears, Elinore Hoyle; brother, Leonard Nishimura Westdale Sr.; grandchildren, Paul and Ashley Westdale; and son-in-law, Alex Budzeak Jr. He is survived by his children, Cheri Budzeak of Colorado Springs, CO, Terri (Al) Watson of Colorado Springs, CO, and Fred (Cheryl) Westdale of Ada, MI. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Alli Watson, Courtney (Amber) Westdale, Lexi (Ben) Budzeak Carter, and Marcus Budzeak, all of Colorado Springs, CO, Lyndsay Westdale of Shelby Township, MI, Mike Watson of Bozman, MT, Vanessa Paolini (Jason) of San Marcos, CA, and Laura Westdale of Grand Rapids, MI. Also surviving him are eleven great-grandchildren.

Having more than lived a full life at 104, Virgil has left his family and friends with many wonderful memories of shared moments in time. We will miss him but take some comfort to know he is once again taking flight.

Visitation will be held on Friday, February 25, 2022, from 6 – 8 PM at Cascade Christian Church, 2829 Thornapple River Drive SE, Grand Rapids, MI. Funeral Services will be held on Saturday, February 26, 2022, at 11AM, with visitation one hour prior, also at Cascade Christian Church. The family is requesting no flowers and instead, honoring Virgil’s memory through donations to a scholarship fund set up for students pursuing aviation careers at Western Michigan University. Online gifts can be made through

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6 Responses

  1. My wife, Jackie and I used to meet Mr Westdale for Sunday b reakfast at McDonalds for years back in the 70’s and 80’s until we moved north of town. We regarded this gentleman highly and he was not shy about regaling with his WW2 exploits. No matter how hard the Army Air Corps tried they could not make Mr Westdale ashamed of his Japanese parentage. Being demoted from Officer to enlisted man because of parentage is shameful and would not be allowed now. He fought with the infantry and did his assigned job of carrying a rifle in combat and later artillery with honor. He truly was a honored member of the Greatest Generation. Rest in peace, Sir.

  2. We always enjoyed when Virgil spoke or attended our banquet. Our prayers and deepest sympathy to Virgil’s family.

  3. I had the privilege of working with Virgil at TSA at Gerald R. Ford Airport. I treasured his stories about his life and will never forget them. He was always quick to smile and to greet anyone. He will be missed by all who knew him. My prayers are with his family!!

  4. Mr. Westdale had quite a life, he represents what has been called the “Greatest Generation”. My condolences.

  5. Very beautiful service today..RIP was an honor to have been part of your life❤

  6. On behalf of the Westdale family, thank you all for your stories. We love reading them. How lucky can one man be to live to 104 and have such amazing friends of all ages? Thank you all for giving him that gift. It gave him a sense of purpose and filled his heart and life with love.

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