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Heroism, patriotism and survival connect two Kent County veterans

Posted at 3:04 PM, Nov 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-11 14:39:41-05

Underneath one roof at Samaritas' Grand Rapids campus are 54 veterans. Recently, Leigh Ann Towne got a chance to sit down with two of them. Samaritas honored these veterans with a special breakfast and pinning ceremony on Veterans Day.

Going on 99 years-old, World War II veteran Virgil Westdale is still sharp as a tack. He can recall dates, vivid scenes and funny stories that span his long life. But as a Japanese American during World War II, he faced some discrimination before and while serving our country. He arrived to the interview in his dress blues, with a Congressional Gold Medal around his neck. During his service, he was part of the most decorated regiment in U.S. history, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Almost all of those soldiers were also of Japanese American descent. Through his service, Westdale helped to write history and it's all outlined in his book, Blue Skies and Thunder.

Also telling his story to Leigh Ann , was Vietnam Veteran Robert "Bob" Cihak, serving in the U.S. Air Force. Two weeks after re-enlisting and getting stationed in Japan, the Vietnam War started. He was injured saving somebody's life, hospitalized for six months due to smoke inhalation. The smoke really messed with his mental recovery, leading him to a lifestyle of street drugs and alcohol. Cihak shares his story of what finally helped turn his life around.