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Friday, December 7th, marks the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the day that launched America into World War II.
On this day in 1941, the Japanese carried out a surprise attack against the United States Naval base in Hawaii. More than 2,400 Americans died, including soldiers, sailors and civilians. On December 6th, 1941, Sherwin Callander and a crew of his Navy shipmates were making their way back to Pearl Harbor after a routine mission to nearby islands.
"A carrier passed us and we could tell it was a carrier, but we couldn't tell what nation it was from. And the next morning over the news broadcast, they had bombed Pearl Harbor," said Callander, who now lives in Madison.
It was then that Callander realized the carrier that passed them was part of the Japanese fleet heading to attack Pearl Harbor. Callander and his crew narrowly missed the attack by just one day.
"Freedom is not free," said Callander.
Upon their return, Callander and his crew immediately got to work.
"And we pulled in the day after that, had to help try to clean up the mess. Had some bodies we had to pull out of the water. It was a mess," said Callander.
At just 20-years-old, Callander volunteered to enlist in the Navy. Pearl Harbor was not the only battle he encountered.
"Every time the bombs started dropping and the bullets flying, I would say a little prayer, 'Lord I know you have to kill some of us, kill me if you have to,'" he said.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Callander volunteered to learn amphibious training, something that would later help in the Normandy invasion, on what is now known as D-Day.
"Pearl Harbor was bad, but it wasn't as bad as D-Day was at Normandy," said Callander.
In recent years, Callander has had the chance to go back to Pearl Harbor and Normandy to visit where he once fought for our freedom.
"They tell me I'm the hero and a celebrity, but us that came back are not the heroes or celebrities. The ones we left there are the heroes and celebrities. I had a job to do and I did it," said Callander.
Callander is actively involved with the group called Forever Young Senior Veterans. The group takes veterans on trips back to where they served, with no cost to the veterans.
Callander also speaks to different groups often. On Friday, the Day of Remembrance for Pearl Harbor, he visited the Rotary Club in Athens to share his military experience.
If you would like more information on Forever Young Senior Veterans or to learn how to donate to veterans trips, visit their website at http://www.foreveryoungvets.org/alabama/.