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Callander accepts France’s Legion of Honor award

Sherwin Callander, second from left, salutes during the ceremony with the French Consul in Montgomery when he and other World War II veterans received France's Legion of Honor award. CONTRIBUTED
Sherwin Callander, second from left, salutes during the ceremony with the French Consul in Montgomery when he and other World War II veterans received France’s Legion of Honor award. CONTRIBUTED

MADISON – The French Consul presented the French Legion of Honor, the country’s highest military award, to Sherwin Callander, a veteran of World War II.

The country of France bestows the Legion of Honor award to World War II veterans to show the country’s appreciation for the soldiers’ service that ushered in France’s freedom.

Callander received his honor at a ceremony at Montgomery City Hall in January from the French Consul, headquartered in Atlanta. Two other World War II veterans from Alabama, two from Mississippi and one from Tennessee received the Legion of Honor award.

“Many of Sherwin’s family attended this well-attended and press-covered event, including Alabama Veterans Administration Director Cory Hawthorne. French Consul Denis Barbet gave out the awards and addressed the audience,” spokesperson Steve Gierhart said.

Geirhart escorted Huntsville resident Joe Connaughton, who also received the honor. “I published Mr. Connaughton’s memoir, ‘Tales of the 319th,'” Geirhart said.

Born in Canada in 1920, Callander was three years old when his family moved to the United States. During the Great Depression, he returned to Canada to live with his grandparents when he was 12.

During the World War II era, Callander worked in a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in California when he was 15 years old. “I made $30 a month — $25 went home,” he said.

Navy recruiters visited Callander’s camp and said, “‘We have a girl in every port.’ That’s what I went for,” Callander said about enlisting in 1939.

In December 1941, Callander was stationed at Wake Island and repaired airplanes. “We were coming back from Pearl one beautiful moonlit night, and a Japanese carrier passed us … on its way to Pearl Harbor.”

Then the world stood still. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Callander and his shipmates sailed to Hawaii for the recovery effort.

“We helped with cleanup. Bodies were in the water,” he said. “When you lifted a head out of the water, you didn’t know if a body would be attached.”

In June 2014, Callander and fellow World War II veterans visited Normandy. “All of the people (in France) respected us so much. That was an awesome trip,” Callander said.

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