Victor Westphall was born in Hebron, Wisconsin on October 13, 1913. He grew up on a farm in the vicinity and graduated from Ft. Atkinson High School. He received his bachelor’s degree from Milwaukee State Teacher’s College in Milwaukee. While in Milwaukee he met his future wife, Jeanne Watson.
Victor earned a commission in the United States Navy and served in the South Pacific Theatre during World War II. He trained for underwater demolition duty, but ended up assigned the duty of establishing forward officer message centers following invasions of several Pacific Islands.
Following World War II, Victor and Jeanne moved from Wisconsin to Albuquerque, New Mexico for reasons of Jeanne’s health. By this time, they had two sons, David and Walter. Victor learned several building trades after moving to Albuquerque and established a homebuilding business in the booming post-World War II economy. Despite the pressures of running a business, he managed to earn a master’s degree and a Ph. D. from the University of New Mexico. Victor also became an author. Among his books are important studies of federal public land policy in Territorial New Mexico. David and Walter grew up in Albuquerque, although David actually graduated from Oklahoma Military Academy in Claremore, Oklahoma.
In 1964, Victor and Jeanne sold their real estate interest in Albuquerque and moved to Angel Fire, New Mexico after purchasing the nearby Val Verde Ranch. It was Victor’s plan to develop the 800-acre ranch into homesites and a 9-hole golf course. In fact, it was during construction of that golf course that Victor was approached late in May of 1968 by two Marine officers who had the dreadful duty of informing Victor and Jeanne that USMC 1/Lt David Westphall had been killed in action in Vietnam on May 22, 1968.
The Westphalls lives were changed forever. Shortly after they learned of David’s death they decided that they should use his insurance money to build a lasting and powerful memorial to their fallen son and his 15 comrades who died as a result of the May 22nd battle. Within a few weeks, they resolved that the Memorial would be for all Vietnam veterans. They broke ground for the Chapel in September of 1968. Dr. Westphall often said that all of his past experiences seemed to have prepared him for the task of creating the Memorial. Little did he and Jeanne realize that a difficult struggle was ahead of them. Particularly in the early years of their mission, there were financial difficultieis and a prevailing attitude of apathy if not antipathy toward Vietnam veterans. Even harsh winter weather created significant problems. Unfortunately, they even had to deal with conflicts that arose within the nonprofit corporation they created to build the Chapel and had to deal with problems with contractors and other parties. For some reason, they had the will to endure no matter what odds or difficulties they faced. Their struggle is a significant part of the Memorial’s importance and it’s legacy.
~ Walter Westphall