“I was absolutely overwhelmed:” WWII veteran gets his wings back

Posted at 9:53 PM, Jan 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-06 22:23:02-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- A World War II veteran who was stripped of his medals nearly 75 years ago was repinned on Saturday.

Virgil Westdale was part of the most decorated battalion in military history: the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, after he was stripped of his Army Air Corps badge during the war because he was a Japanese-American. Westdale had his pilot's license taken away and was demoted to a Private in the Army. 75 years later, Westdale got his wings back, along with a celebration of his 100th birthday.

It was a moment decades in the making that many say never needed to happen.

"It was the restoration of his Army Air Corps Badge," said Lt. Col. Steve Kenyon. "That is 75 years after it was wrongfully taken away from him, so it's a pretty big deal."

"It was great," said Westdale. "They're still working on it to hopefully make it absolutely official from the military."

The wings were given to Westdale by a Michigan local and veteran.

"Those wings came from Army Captain John James who was a combat pilot in Iraq," said Kenyon. "Those wings were in combat. John is running for senate here in the state. John donated his wings."

"I was absolutely overwhelmed," said Westdale.

After the ceremony, Westdale, a lifelong dancer, danced across the stage with his granddaughter.

"I'm not as agile as I used to be," said Westdale.

"For him to have this big celebration and all of the lives he's touched is just incredible," said granddaughter Lyndsay Westdale. "Not only friends and family, but people from the military have come to celebrate him, so that's very cool."

It was a big day celebrating a war hero, with hundreds of people in attendance.

"I never expected that many people to be here," said Westdale.

"It's an all-American birthday celebration," said Kenyon. "What he did during the war is phenomenal."

"For him to be my grandpa is something super special," said Lyndsay. "I'm super proud of him and everything he's accomplished."

Westdale was part of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Two Holocaust survivors were in attendance for the ceremony on Saturday, both were seen posing for pictures with Westdale.