FLORENCE — The Florence Blade-Tribune ran a picture of Navy patrol plane captain Alfred J. “Bud” Westfall receiving a medal. A week later he was home, and “I got a lot of free beer,” he recalled.
That was 67 years ago. Westfall still drops in for a beer at Florence American Legion Post No. 9. You might say he’s a regular, but that term seems inadequate; he’s hardly missed a day for more than six years, since his wife of 60 years, Frieda, passed away. “It gets me out of the house for a while.”
His father, James L. Westfall Sr., was in the Navy Seabees during World War II. He received an early discharge after his brother was killed, as he was the last son in the family. Shortly afterward, he became active in the Florence American Legion.
Bud Westfall, 91, shared memories with PinalCentral, sitting in his usual spot at the end of the bar, his Natural Light can in a cozy. His fondest memories of the American Legion have nothing to do with beer, but with the family activities the organization hosted when he was a boy. It was more family-oriented in those days, with potluck dinners and dances.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Westfall joined the Navy and spent Christmas of 1950 in boot camp. He was 20, older than the other recruits. Some were as young as 16, having lied about their ages to enlist. They cried at night, missing their families during the holidays, but Bud was having fun. “I enjoyed the whole damn thing.”
Based on his good test scores, the Navy tried to steer him toward electronics. But Westfall become an aircraft engine mechanic, and was later an air crewman, flight engineer and patrol plane captain. He served in the Philippines; his second tour took him to Japan.
In all, he flew 58 patrols and received two air medals. These were similar to good conduct awards each time he flew 20 patrols. “If I’d flown two more, I would’ve gotten another one.” His medals are on display at the American Legion today.
Near the end of his Navy career, during a holiday visit home, he and Frieda got married on Christmas Day, 1954, in Christ Episcopal Church in Florence. Frieda had told him, “I want to get married now so I can go with you, because I’ve never been out of Florence.”
When he left the Navy, there was a job waiting for him at Air Research in Phoenix. The Westfalls raised two children in Phoenix, a son who now lives in Mesa and a daughter who lives in St. Johns. Westfall has grandchildren, great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
After his retirement, he and Frieda traveled all over the United States several times in a motor home. When they were ready to stay put for a while, Westfall considered Bandera, Texas, a nice little town in the hill country west of San Antonio.
But the couple’s roots instead led them back to Florence in 1993. Frieda’s grandfather built the Brunenkant Bakery, one of the town’s prominent historic buildings. The house where Bud grew up on Orlando Street was still there, and he thought about buying it.
“Part of it’s over 100 years old. The people who have it now have fixed it up real nice.” After they got settled in Florence Gardens, Westfall checked out the American Legion, and found an old black-and-white photo of his father with other veterans had been stored away.
“We took ’em down because nobody knows who they are,” he was told. Today, James Westfall and everyone else is identified and the picture is on display once again.