Amazing things are continually happening at the Alabama Veterans’ Museum! Our August 2nd Coffee Call was certainly no exception. This month we were lucky to receive a very special donation from one of my favorite heroes, Mr. Sherwin Callander. The following is a bit about how he came to make this donation.
If you have watched the news, picked up the paper, or have been on Facebook recently, you have probably heard of Mr. Callander and his invitation to return to France for a D-Day remembrance ceremony. Well, getting there was an adventure in itself! A WWII hero who was actually stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked (but was lucky enough to be away from port), Callander landed at Utah Beach as part of the invasion on the French beaches. When invited back by the French government for a 70-year remembrance ceremony, Mr. Callander, didn’t realize he was going to have to pay his own way. However, thanks to his granddaughter, Elaine Oakes, and the media, he was able to raise over $10,000 to finance the trip.
Thinking the hardest obstacle was behind him, imagine his surprise when he went to get a passport and they told him he was not an American citizen! Born in Canada in 1920 to an American mother and Scottish father, he believed he was a citizen all his life. “I went through all my schools saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag every morning. You had to do that when I went to school. And then I joined the Navy. And nobody asked me for proof before until I wanted to go to France.”
Callander could not provide proper documentation to prove his citizenship for a passport. Prior to 1994, one could only be granted citizenship through their father’s side. Luckily that was changed and Mr. Callander was declared a citizen retroactively. He did still take the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America. Upon hearing of his dilemma, the officials with Immigration declared him a citizen since birth and his passport was expedited just in time to board the plane!
While in France, his adventure continued. He attended the French National Assembly, had lunch with United States President Barack Obama, was serenaded by young Polish girls, and even gave Nancy Pelosi his business card, which if you have never seen says “so many skirts, so little time.” All of this while celebrating his 94th birthday!
Upon his return, he realized he had money left over and he decided to donate that money. “I never realized there were so many wonderful people in the world who were willing to help a stranger. And my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for what you said and what you donated! With excess funds, we are donating to the Athens Veterans’ Museum in Athens, AL where I am a member–they are needing to add on to their building for all the artifacts they have stored in their attic. The rest will go to the Wounded Warrior Project. Thanks again!”
Daily we walk in the shadows of heroes; Mr. Callander is truly one of them.
By: Sandra Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans’ Museum