Eighth grade Honors ELA students in Elke Hesselgrave's class from Monroe's Park Place Middle School were assigned to interview and write a profile on a veteran.
Here is Lilli West's story. She wrote about her great grandfather, Malcolm West, now deceased.
World War II Hero
During World War II there were many people that fought and risked their lives to protect our freedom. Many people died and suffered great loss, but we can still be inspired by the
stories that come from their sacrifices for our country. Willard Malcolm West, my great
grandfather, was one of those people who fought in the war for our freedom. Even though he
has passed away, we can still hear his story that is being passed down from generation to
generation. For this article I interviewed my grandpa, Malcolm’s son, because my great grandpa has passed away.
Willard Malcolm West was born in Hutchinson, Kansas and lived with his mother, father, and older brother. Malcolm didn’t like being called Willard, so he asked people to call him
Malcolm. His older brother didn’t serve in the war because he had polio and was crippled.
Malcolm and his nephew were the only two in his family that fought in the war, though sadly, his
nephew didn’t survive. Malcolm went to college at Kansas State and got a degree in journalism.
During his college years, he and his friends would hop freight trains and take them down to the
gulf coast. Before the war started, Malcolm worked in Roswell, New Mexico for the local
My great grandfather was 28 when he joined the war. He was in the artillery branch of
the army. Malcolm started the war off as a lieutenant but gradually made his way up the ranks
and by the time the war ended, he was a captain. But he stayed in the military for 30 more years
after the war ended, so when he retired, he retired as a colonel. He entered combat theatre in
January, 1942 and ended in 1946, when the war ended. He fought in the Pacific Coast the
whole time from Alaska to Okinawa. My grandpa wasn’t born yet when Malcolm joined the army,
but when the war started, my grandpa was 9 months old, so he didn’t see him until after the war was over. The reasons why Malcolm decided to join the war are unknown but I know that during
that time period it was expected for men to fight.
As is usual during a war, not everything went according to plan. At the beginning of the
war Malcolm’s division was deployed to Alaska. In January, they took their heavy weapons up to
Alaska through Fort Lewis because they were afraid that an invasion was going to occur. They
arrived on a transport ship but the weather was absolutely dreadful with darkness and heavy
fog. They started moving all their weapons on trucks and went in search for their designated
location, but they stumbled upon the Commanding General's yard during their search and
destroyed it. Another time while he and his team were checking the weapons and ammunition
he asked them to check the date of expiration on the ammunition. They found that all of the
crates of ammunition, 10,000 rounds, had a warning sign that said it was marked unsafe to fire
Malcolm hated fighting in the war because he sent his friends out on the battlefield
knowing they might not return. There was one time he was nearly killed himself, “Within an
eyelash of getting shot,” my grandpa said. On Okinawa a Japanese officer held up a white flag
claiming that he was going to surrender. Malcolm and a few other soldiers went to meet him.
When they arrived they saw that the Japanese officer was being flanked by 3 other Japanese
soldiers. One of the people with Malcolm, his friend actually, stepped forward to take the flag
from the officer. The Japanese officer then bent down and one of his soldiers behind him started
shooting his gun at Malcolm and his friend, but his friend was in the way and was hit and killed.
The Japanese soldier’s intention was to kill Malcolm because he was the officer, but
inadvertently his friend died instead. My grandpa remembers Malcolm being really distraught
telling this story. Malcolm often commented while explaining his time during the war, “People don’t really understand what it was like.” It is hard to imagine seeing all this death and
Malcolm commanded four 105 mm howitzers, which was a long range weapon. He was
involved in a lot of close combat, especially when the Aleutian Islands in Alaska were almost
over run by the Japanese. My grandpa remembers him explaining that “it was brutal.” Malcolm
was awarded ribbons, but Grandpa never saw any of the medals he received because Malcolm
never talked about it or showed any of them to his family.
The war ended in the year 1945, and that is when Malcolm finally came home. Grandpa
was 5 when he met his father for the first time. Like some returning war heroes, he suffered from
PTSD and was subjected to migraines. After the war he lived another 38 years and passed
away at 76 from heart failure. Malcolm fought for our country and suffered great loss and pain,
but still continued on. Even though my great grandpa died 36 years ago, we can still learn from
his story passed down through the years.
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