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D-Day veteran celebrates 100th birthday with JBLM

Colonel George Westlake shares memories of 30-year career

Retired Col. George Westlake watches as his great grandson, Roman Rehn, center-right, 4; and great-great grandson, Jaden George, right, 10, blow out the birthday candles at the Lewis Army Museum Feb. 21. Photo credit: Bud McKay

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Of the more than 876,000 hours retired Col. George Westlake has lived, the two he spent at the Lewis Army Museum on Joint Base Lewis-McChord Feb. 21 were a dream come true for him, he said.

Westlake, a company commander of 3rd Tank Destroyer Group's headquarters' element on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasions of World War II, celebrated his 100th birthday with 13 members of his family at the museum.

"I can't drive a tank anymore, but I can drive this motorized scooter," Westlake said, as he made his way through a two-hour tour at the Lewis Army Museum. "It's very nice to reconnect with the military. I just didn't want to come here and take people away from what they're doing. I'm very happy and surprised they did what they did for me."

Erik Flint, Lewis Army Museum director, seemed to be the happy one to guide Westlake through the museum and speak with someone who is living history.

"Being a real history geek, I had a lot of questions about Colonel Westlake's service as a Tank Destroyer Corps officer and his experiences during the major events in 1944-45 Europe -- Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge," Flint said. "I just enjoyed getting to ask him questions about his service and sitting back and listening to him -- he is still so mentally sharp."

Drafted July 3, 1941, the 22-year-old Westlake was sent into the Cavalry Training Replacement Center -- not a good assignment for someone who didn't like horses. But then again, Westlake said he spent most of his life being in the right place at the right time.

"I was one of the first ones in my group who went through the training, so they made me an officer," he said.

By 1942, Westlake cleaned up after his last horse and graduated from Officer Training School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as a second lieutenant. From there, he moved to the 3rd Tank Destroyer Group at Camp Bowie, Texas.

By June 6, 1944, Westlake found himself on a ship off the coast of Normandy, France -- D-Day. Westlake would hit the beach two days later.

"There were boats as far as you could see," Westlake said. "But I didn't really have to dodge anything -- I'm a survivor."

Even two days later, Flint was quick to point out, Omaha Beach was still taking fire from German forces.

Westlake spent the next year "chasing the Germans" through France and Belgium until the Germans finally surrendered May 7, 1945.

Westlake returned to the United States, but instead of getting out of the military, he joined the Army Reserve and retired as a colonel in 1975. He was a civil affairs commander at Fort Lawton -- now Discovery Park -- in Seattle. Today, he lives in the Wedgwood area of Seattle.

"The biggest take-away for me was how extraordinary his 30-year career was," Flint said. "How it spanned both active-duty and reserve time and how he served in multiple branches: cavalry, tank destroyer, armor, quartermaster and civil affairs."

Vicki Tiemeyer, Westlake's niece, said all things considered, the visit to JBLM may have been one of the best days of Westlake's life.

"Someone his age is removed from the military - and it was such an important part of his life," she said. "It means so much for him to have this opportunity to reconnect and, in some ways, relive some of his days in the military and his youth.

"This excitement will last him another 100 years."

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