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Honoring our veterans

R.J. Wolcott • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:33 AM

Jacob Westra served in the U.S. Army from 1941-45 in the European Theater. Westra began his service in England, working with the 185th Ordnance Battalion to turn a General Motors plant into a weapons and vehicle depot.

Ten Days after D-Day, Westra was shipped to France and started up another depot. However, once troop causalities began to mount, the Army called him up to the front.

During his time in combat, Westra served valiantly with the 78th Lightning Division in E Company.

Westra soon found himself on Germany’s footstep and worked to cross the Rhine River. Working with the 310th and 311th battalions alongside the Army’s 9th Armored Division, they soon found a bridge and crossed into Germany.

Once, while running around a corner in a small German town, Westra came face to face with an armed German soldier. The two of them stared each other down, daring each other to fire, until Westra clocked the German under the chin with the end of his rifle.

Westra said he also saw the humanity of the German citizens while liberating the country. He remembers a time when he was standing in a doorway and a German girl pulled him out of the line of fire just as a sniper fired.

Westra concluded his service on Sept. 9, 1945, after accumulating enough points to come home. He was discharged as a private 1st class.

Westra will be serving as the grand marshal of the Memorial Day Parade in downtown Grand Haven on Monday morning.

Harold Buck served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He was stationed in England and made bombing runs throughout the war.

Buck was the ball-turret gunner during missions. He flew a total of 36 bombing missions during the war — most of them being over Germany.

During one of these runs in 1945, Buck’s plane was heavily damaged to the point that only one engine was working properly. Buck and his crew ended up crash landing on an airstrip in Finland after being given proper authorization.

When they arrived on the runway, they were ordered to stand at attention and look toward the sky, Buck said. When they looked up, they spotted a new B-17 coming in for a landing. They were told this would be their new plane. Buck knew then that his crew was not going to get the "vacation" they had expected.

On one of their missions, Buck spotted a German fighter and yelled to his pilot to raise the plane. Buck pulled back on his gun and fired a hail of bullets at the enemy craft, sending smoke billowing from his target. Buck had got him.

Buck was discharged as a staff sergeant and went on to work for GM for 30 years.

“I’ve had a good life," he said. "God has been good to me.”

Gil Heyblom enlisted with the U.S. Navy just one month after graduating high school in 1949. Heyblom attended boot camp and then medical school before being assigned to a military hospital in Philadelphia.

Heyblom was only there for three months before being pulled into the 1st Marine Division in preparation for the invasion of Korea in 1950. He was in the Battle of Inchon, an amphibious invasion into what became the first American base of operations in the Korean War.

From there, Heyblom went to Seoul, South Korea, and worked with the Marines to liberate the city. Heyblom recalls having to liberate the city two or three additional times because of the strong North Korean presence in the area.

Heyblom remembers stuffing his pack with 3-4 boxes of carbine ammunition before the landing, but realized he would not be able to perform his medic duties properly when carrying so many shells.

His unit then marched into the mountains and fought the onslaught of Chinese invaders when they entered the war. Before China entered the war, Heyblom’s officers had thought they would return by Christmas.

Heyblom was finally discharged in 1954.

After the war, Heyblom recalled a Marine reunion in which several men approached him. They had all been treated by him during the war and they thanked him for saving their lives.

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