BY MELANIE BUCK –
Udene Westphal, mostly known as ‘Denie,’ was honored with the 2017 Distinguished Woman in American History Award by the James K. Polk Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR ) on Thursday, March 16. The award was given as part of NSDAR’s two-year commemoration of the ending of the war in Vietnam. Westphal was chosen “for her volunteer and paid service to all Polk County veterans over many years.”
Not only does Westphal work to help veterans every day, she herself is a veteran. She enlisted in the United States Navy right after graduating high school in Pineville, Louisiana in 1965. Not only did she want to earn money for college, Vietnam was also in full swing and she wanted to do something to help.
“I felt like I needed to do something,” she said. And she did. “I was strictly a pencil-pusher,” Westphal laughed. And although she makes her job in the Navy seem minimal, her duties included handling classified documents and working with senior officers in the military. She served for three years actively. “I was very proud. At the time, they didn’t allow ‘WAVES’ (Women’s Auxiliary Voluntary Emergency Services) on the ships so I served where I could,” Westphal explained. She added that WAVES are now known as women sailors.
In addition to her work with veterans at the Polk County Veterans Service Office, she also volunteers her time at the American Legion, where she is the Adjutant (secretary). “I love helping the vets. Anything I can do to help a veteran, I will.” Other volunteer projects include being part of the Military Honor Guard, the Humane Society of the Ouachitas, Hospice Services at Ouachita Regional Hospice, and serves on the board of the Polk County Family Mission.
Dotty Kinyon, DAR Regent, stated in her presentation leading up to the award that it is a privilege to honor Westphal “as a notable woman for her outstanding contributions and the difference she has made in her community. She has been especially instrumental in involving James K. Polk Chapter, NSDAR, members in activities related to our mission and serving local military personnel and veterans.”
When honored with the Distinguished Woman in American History Award, Westphal thanked the Society and tearfully said, “When I joined the Navy, it was the best thing I ever did.”