MADISON, AL (WAFF) - A World War II veteran living in Madison experienced the beginning of the war for the United States, and the beginning of its end.
Sherwin Callander joined the Navy in 1939 after working with the Civilian Conservation Corps.
“The different recruiting officers from the different branches of service would come and try and recruit us, and when the Navy man would come in, he said ‘you’d have a girl in every port,' I said sign me up," the 98-year-old said.
Callander trained in California before being stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
His ship was running a supply mission near Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 7, 1941, the day that lived in infamy.
“I was very lucky, like I said, in the wintertime out there in the Pacific, the nights were so clear and everything, the moonlight, it was almost like daytime. We seen this carrier pass us, we didn’t know what it was or what nation it was, but we found out the next day over the radio that they’d bombed Pearl Harbor,” he said.
Callander’s ship returned to Hawaii the next day, where he and his fellow servicemen were tasked with clean-up. He said he pulled bodies from the ocean.
“Those things you never forget, it was mean, war is hell any way you look at it,” he said.
Callander said the experience shook him, and inspired a decision to leave Hawaii for training in Virginia.
He learned to operate Higgins boats, used for assault troop transport.
The United States used those boats at the beaches on D-Day.
Callander was there, operating a Higgins boat at Utah Beach.
“We were told not to help anybody or try to bring anybody back to the ship. Get back to the ship as fast as you can, and get more men, we had to get man power on the beach,” he said.
“The water, after the first wave, the water for a good 10 feet was just blood red with bodies and blood and everything.”
Callander left the military at war’s end unscathed.
“I figured I’d had enough that God had looked after me enough, every time the bullets would fly and the bombs would drop, I would start saying a little prayer, I’d say dear lord, I know you have to kill some of us, kill me if you have to, but please do not send me back a cripple, and my prayers were answered, I never got a scratch," he said.
He now spends his time encouraging young people to join the armed forces, and participating in Forever Young Senior Veterans.
The group puts on events and programs for elderly veterans in the area. You can follow the above link for more details.
Callander said he is grateful for the recognition he has gotten, but encourages people to also thank firefighters, policemen and other public servants.