WWII veteran fights a different front: Dr. Westbrook advocates for quality educational access
12.08.2016 | By Andrea Vasquez
When Dr. B.J. Westbrook joined the Army, he had no idea that he would be part of one of the most infamous wars that changed the course of American history. He also did not expect that his military experience would lead to continuing his education and future career as a dentist. As the country recognizes the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Westbrook reflects on the events that caused a generation to persevere and strive to accomplish their goals through hard work and education.
Upon enlisting Dr. Westbrook served as an infantryman during World War II (WWII). As the war came to a close, despite having no medical experience, he was given a medical assignment, promoted to sergeant and managed the dispensary of the 24th and 25th divisions of the 6th Army, which included about 7,000 men.
“I gained so much admiration for medical personnel,” said Westbrook. “We had a dentist out there who just used a little pump machine, so even now it amazes me how much we did with what we had back then and how far things have advanced today.”
As his interest in the medical field expanded, Dr. Westbrook found himself surrounded by the aftermath of another horrific WWII attack in the summer of 1945. “They had just delivered parts to the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima, when the ship (USS Indianapolis) was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine.” Of the nearly 1,200 onboard, 900 men were left swimming in the Pacific for five days ultimately succumbing to injuries, dehydration, exhaustion and shark attacks leaving only 316 survivors.
After he completed his enlistment, Westbrook chose to pursue a college education, which was made possible by the GI Bill. As the first in his family to graduate from high school, a college education was an endeavor that no one in his family had ever dreamed of. “Both of my parents only went to school until the fourth grade, so making the decision to go to college after I got out of the Army was something I wanted to do for myself. At the time, I thought I wanted to go to medical school, so this was the only way to do that.” After attending the University of Texas, Westbrook continued on to dental school and worked as a dentist in Houston’s North Channel area for more than 50 years.
Since then, Westbrook has been a champion for community colleges and providing students access to a quality and affordable education through his donations to the San Jacinto College Foundation. In addition to his recent $100,000 donation to the College’s music program, Westbrook has also included the San Jacinto College Foundation in his will, establishing an endowment that will continue to support student success through a legacy that promotes all forms of postsecondary education.
“College in the academic sense is not for everyone,” he said. “San Jacinto College offers students different pathway options, so if a four-year university is not in their plan, they can still come to the College and become proficient in a technical area and enter the workforce making a decent living and work toward whatever their next goal is. This is why I’m a big advocate for community colleges.”
The San Jacinto College Foundation creates educational access through generous donations from private donors, industry partners and alumni that fund scholarships for San Jacinto College students. The Foundation also has veteran student scholarships and emergency funding available to ensure continued veteran student success by serving those who have served us. For more information on giving to the San Jacinto College Foundation, visit sanjac.edu/foundation.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Top 10 finalist and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 30,000 students each semester benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers seven areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to a four-year college or university or enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.