Pearl Harbor survivor returns 74 years later, shares story with local students

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Very few men can say they served in both the European and Pacific Theaters during World War II, even fewer are still alive, but the Tennessee Valley is fortunate enough to have one right here in Huntsville.

Sherwin Callander survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the D-Day Invasion. He had quite the story to share with a group of students Monday afternoon.

For the students, it's one thing to listen to a history lesson.  “They’re hard things to think about, but that’s war," CPO Sherwin Callander told the crowd.

It's something completely different to get it straight from the source. “People get killed and maimed in war, but we have to have war to keep our freedom here," says the retired Navy seaman.

In 1942, Sherwin was stationed at a base near Pearl Harbor.  “On the 8th, we pulled into Pearl Harbor and there were still a lot of bodies in the water," he says.

Through the organization Forever Young Veterans, Sherwin got the chance last month to retrace his steps.

His journey back 74 years in time started at Huntsville International, and after a long flight, he arrived in Hawaii with 19 other WWII veterans.  “To see the Arizona underwater, and after all these years, it’s still seeping oil. From the airplane, you can still see the oil streak," says Callander.

At 96 years "young", Sherwin took to the skies for an open door helicopter tour of Pearl Harbor. His guide says he's the oldest to ever do it.

Mr. Callander also got to see the memorial for his kid brother, who was declared missing in action in the Pacific. “Seeing him at Punchbowl Cemetery getting to see his brother’s grave stone, that was just incredible. I knew it would be special for my grandpa. I didn’t know how special it would be with everyone else," says his granddaughter, Elaine Oakes.

With every step, Sherwin says memories flooded back, but along his journey of reflection, he was stopped by grateful citizens.  “It showed me the American public does appreciate what we did," he says.

Sherwin got to share that story, and others, Monday afternoon. With each anecdote came life-changing lessons.

“Hard work and dedication can get you through almost anything," says Seth Willis, an 8th grader at Westminister Christian Academy.

“When you’re reading through a history book, these people weren’t just things that died, they were real people with family and friends," says Matthew Thompson, also in the 8th grade.

Callander says the grateful public, is humbling.

“I don’t particularly like being called a hero, but I like being appreciated for what I did," says CPO Callander.

Sherwin's granddaughter and others on the trip are looking to set up a Forever Young Veterans Chapter here in Huntsville.

If you know a veteran over the age of 65 that might want to do a trip similar to Mr. Callander's, email Chris Batte at ctb110@gmail.com.

As for Sherwin, he's being interviewed by the Library of Congress on Thursday. That recording will be stored in the library in Washington, D.C.