The resilient journey of Virgil Nishimura Westdale.           In early 1942, Virgil Westdale, then Virgil Nishimura, was a newly licensed pilot in the War Training Service Pilot Program. Months later, he was asked to surrender his pilot’s license and wings despite his merit. It was later revealed that his license had been revoked due to his Japanese heritage.             Westdale had never identified with his Japanese ancestry. His father immigrated to the U.S. as a young orphan and their last name, Nishimura, was the only remnant of their heritage. Losing his license compelled Westdale to legally change his name from Nishimura to Westdale (Nishi means “west”  in Japanese, and mura means “village,” which they substituted with “dale”).             Five months after his dismissal, his license was returned without explanation. Seizing this second chance, he excelled and graduated top of his class. Soon after, he served as an instructor from May until August of 1943, the only Japanese American to do so during WW2.            His instructing days were halted when he was transferred to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a newly-formed, segregated Japanese American unit. This unit would become the most decorated unit in U.S. Military history. Notably, the unit liberated Holocaust victims from Nazi death marches and a concentration camp.           After the war, Westdale graduated from Western Michigan College and had a prestigious engineering career. After retiring, his passions led him to become a security officer at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. In 2004, Westdale was named TSA Employee of the Year at 87 years old.             In his twilight years, Westdale raised awareness about the Holocaust and the Japanese American experience during WW2. Westdale lived to be 104, and his inspiring story is captured in his memoir Blue Skies and Thunder: Farm Boy, Pilot, Inventor, TSA Officer and WW II Soldier of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This story is brought to you by the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation  Join our community at