Virgil William Nishimura Westdale
Technician Fifth Grade
442nd Regimental Combat Team
522nd Field Artillery Battalion
Virgil William Nishimura was born on January 8, 1918, in Millersburg, Indiana. He was one of five children of Sunao Fred and Edith Asenath (Loy) Nishimura. Sunao emigrated from Fukuda village, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, on October 27, 1905, on the SS Mongolia; arriving in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii. He soon moved on to San Francisco where the city was still devastated from the April 18, 1906, great earthquake. As a result, he continued east to Denver, Colorado, where he engaged in farming. On January 27, 1912, he married Edith Loy, who was originally from Ohio. They had met while Sunao was studying English at a Christian Church that Edith attended. They soon moved to Indiana to work on Edith’s family’s farm.
In 1927, the Nishimura family moved to St. Joseph County, Michigan. Virgil attended White Pigeon High School, graduating in 1936. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, at Local Board No. 3, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he was a student at Western State Teachers College. His point of contact was his father. Virgil was 6’1” and weighed 160 pounds.
In February 1942, Virgil entered pilot training in the War Training Service program. He was at the top of his class and earned his Private Pilot License. In July, he began acrobatic training at Bendix Field, South Bend, Indiana. While in training, an agent of the Civilian Aeronautics Administration (CAA) came to the field and confiscated Virgil’s Private Pilot License without any explanation. Five months later, the license was returned; however, in the interim, Virgil went to court and had his name – Nishimura – officially changed to its English translation – Westdale. He returned to flight training, earning his Instrument Rating and Commercial Pilot License. The flight school had a contract with the Army Air Corps, and Virgil was hired as an instructor. On October 30, 1942, at Romulus Field, near Detroit, Michigan, Virgil was inducted into the Army Air Corps Reserve at an E-6 pay grade as an Instrument Flight Instructor.
In February 1943, Virgil was ordered to Active Duty in the Army from the Army Air Corps Reserve, demoted to Private/E-1, and transferred to the 442nd RCT at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, F Company, where he qualified on the Browning automatic rifle (BAR) and flame thrower.
When training was completed in March 1944, Westdale found that he would be transferred to the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, an entity of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, where his pilot’s training could be utilized by the Air Observation Section, which had two observation planes. Westdale believed that this assignment came about because his sister had written to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of civil rights for minorities. Once in the 522nd, he was assigned to Headquarters Battery, Fire Control Center.
The Combat Team left Camp Shelby on April 22, 1944, for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. On May 2, they departed on the transport ship John Hopkins from nearby Hampton Roads in a convoy of over 100 ships enroute to Europe. On May 28, the ships carrying the 522nd Battalion arrived at the east coast of Italy. The main body of the Battalion disembarked at Brindisi and the remainder at Bari. The rest of the 442nd had landed in Naples on the west coast. The 522nd personnel headed west to meet up with the 442nd in Naples, and their equipment. They traveled by train to Bagnoli, near Naples, arriving on May 30. On June 6, they boarded the US LST 526 at Port Nisidra and sailed to Anzio. Through to June 21, the Battalion continued to move north, conducting training enroute.
On June 26, the first artillery rounds were fired against the Germans near Suvereto in support of the 442nd RCT. The 522nd stayed in support of the advance of the RCT as it pushed the Germans north. On September 11, the Battalion was moved from Pisa back to Naples aboard the USS Richard K. Call; then, on September 27 boarded the USS Thurston and shipped to Marseilles for the battles through France. Virgil participated in all the battles of the Rhineland-Vosges and Rhineland-Maritime Alps Campaigns in France.
In February 1945, the 522nd was reassigned to the Seventh Army to add its firepower to the assault on the Siegfried Line in the German homeland. Often the lead element in the chase across Germany, the 522nd made 52 displacements from March 12 to the end of the war on May 9, 1945. In the last week of April, elements of the Battalion stumbled into the horrifying death camps of the Dachau Concentration Complex. With the war ended, the Battalion was assigned security missions around Donauworth, 72 miles northwest of Munich. Virgil also fought in this Central Europe Campaign.
For his military service, Technician Fifth Grade Virgil William Westdale was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal, and the Army of Occupation Medal.
Virgil awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on October 5, 2010, along with the other veterans of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. This is the highest Congressional Civilian Medal. He was also awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal.
Virgil left Southampton on December 26, 1945, on the USS Wasp for New York City. Once back in the United States, he hitchhiked home to Michigan. The first day he was home, he got a call saying that he could have a job flying in Texas, if he wanted it. His grandmother said, “Virgil, you’re not hurt. You got home. Don’t fly.” He turned down the flying job and went back to college.
Virgil attended Western Michigan University and upon graduation worked for Burroughs Corporation as a Senior Project Chemical Engineer. On September 6, 1947, Virgil married Geneva F. Nichols in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They had three children – two daughters and one son.
In 1966, Westdale transferred to AM International, a lithographic machine manufacturer, as a principal scientist, where he designed products for the toner industry. Some of his innovations have revolutionized the print industry and are still in use today. In 1983, he received the prestigious research and development award “for the advancement of the graphic arts industry” from the International Association of Printing House Craftsmen in Calgary, Canada. Virgil retired in 1986, having accrued 25 patents in chemical and mechanical engineering.
In 1995 at the age of 77, Virgil went back to work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In 2004, he was the oldest employee in the agency. On December 16, 2004, Virgil received the TSA Employee of the Year Award on behalf of 45,000 security screeners.
On April 14, 2010, he was one of 120 soldiers honored as a “holocaust camp liberator” at the National Tribute Dinner for the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. That same year, Virgil published his autobiography, Blue Skies and Thunder.
As of 2021, he is 103 years old, healthy, sharp-witted, and living in Michigan.
Researched and written by the Sons & Daughters of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in 2021.