Wishing you a very special Happy Birthday Walt West - 100 Years
Hello Pampa News readers! I recently had the incredible opportunity to get to know Mr. Wilbern “Walt” West through his daughter, Linda West and through the little bits of conversation I could hear the two of them exchange over the phone. Although I was unable to meet Mr. West in person due to COVID-19 concerns, I am so happy to write this article to wish this amazing human being a very Happy 100th Birthday!
Wilbern “Walt” West was born May 17, 1920 in Clarksville, Arkansas as the oldest of 15 children.
In Aug. 1928, his family moved to Oklahoma when he was just eight years old where he lived for the remainder of his childhood.
He married his late wife Willie West in Sayre, Okla. in 1943 just one year after enlisting in the Army and was sent overseas almost immediately after. The couple had four children (Bill, Harry, Carolyn and Linda) and spent 64 happy years with one another before her passing in 2007.
“Some of my favorite memories of my dad growing up were the vacations we took together, says Walt’s daughter, Linda West.
“He used to take me fishing on the rivers in Colorado,” she remembered fondly.
“He also used to work for Cabot, and so we always got to go up to Cabot Ranch in Colorado.”
Linda also recalled the times her father would take her to visit her grandparents and cousins in McLean, which are memories she holds dear to her heart.
“When we were young we would go at least once a month to visit my grandparents on Sunday. All of us kids were there and all the aunts and uncles. So that was pretty special too,” Linda said.
Walt joined the army in 1942 served as a Technician Sargeant in the Army until he was sent to the Pacific Theatre in 1943, where he served in the Amphibious Army.
“They (amphibious army) were on a battleship and he was in the battle of Peleliu (Sept. 15,1944) and Angaur (Sept. 17,1944). They were two of some of the bloodiest battles of World War II in the Pacific,” said Linda.
And bloody they were - the Battle of Peleliu resulted in the highest casualty rate of any amphibious assault in American military history. 40% of those who fought for the island were either killed or wounded. The battle of Angaur resulted in 1,614 killed and wounded American troops.
Walt was discharged from the Army in 1945 after having survived one of the most harrowing wars in United States history. He moved to Pampa one year later in 1946 and began his career with Cabot, where he worked for 39 years until his retirement in 1985.
However, Walt wasn’t just a work-then-home type of guy. He was an avid historian who discovered many battle sites and artifacts in the Texas Panhandle over the years. Some of the artifacts he found are on display in the White Deer Land Museum.
“He used to go out with County Commissioner Gerald Wright on ranches (with permission). They found Camp Cantonment (near present-day Mobeetie), which was established in 1875,” said Linda.
Camp Cantonment was a United States Army post where soldiers would patrol borders of Native American territory to protect cattle drives headed north to Kansas. It was renamed Fort Elliott in 1876 and was operational until the year 1890.
“They also found Chief Grey Beard’s camp,” Linda added.
Chief Grey Beard was a Southern Cheyenne medicine man and chief who’s camp was located near present-day McClellan Creek National Grassland.
“He has a lot of artifacts down at the White Deer Land Museum that he and Mr. Wright found. There were a lot of Army and Native American artifacts.
“He can sit and talk to you for hours about the history of McClellan Creek and who came through. It’s amazing to sit and listen to him, because he still remembers all of that,” said Linda.
Aside from being a family man, a veteran and a historian, Walt is also an enthusiastic gardener.
“He has always grown a huge vegetable garden. He has given so much food away from that garden to the people of this town, Linda said.
“He has talked all winter about planting his garden again (this year). So I’m going to help him with that.”
This year for Walt’s 100th birthday, Linda plans to have her family send birthday cards to her father because “He just loves to go to out to the mailbox and look for mail,” she said.
Typically, his family would throw him a birthday party, however they are playing it safe this year due to COVID-19.
“Last year for his 99th birthday, we had a huge birthday party for him and we had about 80 family members and friends there.
“He also had this Ford that he bought brand new in 1955,” Linda said.
As a birthday present last year, she and her brother fully restored the vehicle (which miraculously still starts and runs after being in storage for 47 years).
“And, Doppler Dave Oliver [of KFDA Amarillo] came down and did a little piece for Good News with Doppler Dave. Then they even came and filmed his 99th birthday party,” she said.
Although the family can’t give Mr. West the birthday bash they were able to last year, he can look forward to birthday cards from his two living siblings, his four children, 11 grandchildren and from many grand and great-grandchildren.
The Pampa News would like to wish Mr. West a very happy 100th birthday! We would also like to thank him for his service to our country and for the contributions he has made to keeping the history of the Texas Panhandle alive.
The video highlighting the restoration of Mr. West’s 1955 Ford for his 99th birthday can be found here: https://bit.ly/2YIFERK