Friendship blooms between two WWII veterans attending annual Tribute to Heroes event at Madison school

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MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) - Just a week before Veterans Day, two men who served their country during World War II met for the first time at an assembly at Discovery Middle School.  It was the school's third annual Tribute to Heroes event to honor veterans.

Amidst the celebration, a new friendship bloomed between the two WWII veterans in an understanding that, perhaps, can only be shared by people who experienced the war.

At 9:00 a.m., World War II veterans Sherwin Callander and Vernon Wilder, Jr., slowly made their way into the school gymnasium to watch the program.  They had just finished a nice breakfast in the school library and were seated next to each other in the gym.

They didn't know each other before the gathering.

It was an emotional event, featuring patriotic music by the Discovery Middle School Band and Choir and dancing by the school cheerleaders and dance line.

It culminated in a moving presentation of a yellow wreath by students from military families, with Taps playing in the background.

Everyone stood and saluted.

After it was all said and done, the school children personally thanked the veterans.

WHNT NEWS 19 caught up Callander and Wilder.  And although they were strangers just two hours before, they already seemed like old friends.

Callander said to Wilder, "You's a kid."
"I feel like it," Wilder said back with a smile.

Callandar is 94 years old. Wilder is 91.  Both were moved to tears by the children's tribute to veterans.

Wilder said, "I think we ought to all salute the poor fellers that got killed," and then broke down into tears, overcome with emotion.

And when that happened, Callander stepped in to back him up, just like battlefield comrades.

"Come over here," Callander ordered Wilder.  "Put your butt right here."  Callander motioned for Wilder to sit on his knee, since Callander was sitting on a walker-turned-chair designed to give an elderly person a place to sit.

"We gotta stick together," said Callander to Wilder.  And then they chatted like old friends.
"I was in the Navy.. I was in the Army," Wilder said.
"I know," said Callander.
"I belonged to both of them," said Wilder.
"I know you did," Callander answered.  "Got out of one and got into the other one."

Then Callander turned his attention back to the ceremony at the school.

"Wasn't this wonderful?" Callander asked Wilder.  "Couldn't have been any bigger.  Aw, they're teaching these kids something."

"It made me cry," said Wilder.  "I couldn't help it."
"I know it," said Callander.  "Brought tears to my eyes too."

It's a bond veterans share -- strangers or not -- always brothers in arms.

Discovery Middle School puts on this tribute each year.

The teacher who organized and planned it -- Anthony Graham -- is a veteran himself.