Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is not a federal holiday. Government offices, schools, businesses and other organizations do not close. However, there are some organizations that hold special events in memory of the more than 2000 Americans who were killed on this day in 1941. Fortunately, we in Athens can also recognize the few remaining local survivors of Pearl Harbor.
This Saturday, December 7th, 2013, will be 72 years since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This Saturday is also Coffee Call at the Alabama Veterans’ Museum and Archives where Mr. Sherwin Callander of Madison, AL, a Pearl Harbor survivor, is planning to attend. Mr. Callander has been attending the monthly Coffees for several years, and has been driving himself up until recently. But to hear him tell it, it is his way of having a pretty woman on his arm to escort.
It is places like our Veterans’ Museum that give a setting, or permission it seems, to allow our Veterans to talk (or just be around other Vets). They can heal from the painful memories, and are finally able to share their experiences with their families. The Alabama Veterans’ Museum and Archives has been called “Athens’ best kept secret,” but the secret is beginning to get out!
In 2009, the Museum received the North Alabama Peek Award as the “Attraction of the Year,” and rightly so. The Museum opened in 2002; they are open 6 days a week and see visitors from all parts of the U.S. and countries around the world. The monthly coffees bring in close to 200 guests for breakfast and more would attend if we had the room. Museum Director Sandra Thompson said, “We are eager to begin our expansion so we can better serve the community, our visitors and our Veterans. We have received a couple of donations towards the Building Fund project but more funds, grants and community support are needed.”
Below are two stories that have been shared with me through the Veterans Museum, of two local men who survived Pearl Harbor.
US Navy – 1939-1945
During the Great Depression, Callander was fighting forest fires in California for the Civilian Conservation Corps in order to send money back home when recruiters were signing up young men to serve Uncle Sam. Callander said “it was the Navy recruiter who won me over with one sentence, ‘You’ll have a girl in every port.’” He enlisted in the Navy in 1939.
Callender was aboard the USS Wright in the area of Midway Island. They traveled from there to Wake Island and on to Pearl Harbor to restock. They were one day away when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
When Callander arrived at Pearl Harbor the morning after the Japanese attacked, his duties were to bring the dead bodies out of the ocean. He said, “That was my first sight of a mass murder.” As they sifted through the water they were to place body parts in plastic bags. The bags were to contain parts to make up a complete body. “People just don’t realize what all we had to do,” Callander repeated.
Callander later shipped off to Australia. He also made three invasions into North Africa, Italy and France, with an assault troop transport. Callander served in the Navy until 1945. At that time he simply said, “I have seen enough.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor came as a surprise to the American Army and Navy and led to great losses of life and equipment. More than 2000 American citizens were killed and more than 1000 were injured. The Americans also lost a large portion of their battleships and nearly 200 aircraft that were stationed in the Pacific region. More than 60 Japanese servicemen were killed, injured or captured. The Japanese Navy also lost five midget submarines and 29 aircraft.
The Japanese military had hoped that the attack on Pearl Harbor would prevent the United States of America from increasing her influence in the Pacific. However, the events in Pearl Harbor actually led to the escalation of World War II. The day after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan. President Franklin Roosevelt in a speech to Congress stated that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was “a date which will live in infamy.” Shortly afterwards, Germany also declared war on the U.S. In the months that followed the attack, the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” swept the United States and radio stations repeatedly played a song of the same name.
On December 6th 2009, the production “We Interrupt This Program…Pearl Harbor Remembered” was performed in Athens as a fundraiser for the Veterans Museum. The Guests of Honor were not only all the veterans who have served our country so bravely, but our own Pearl Harbor survivor, Gilbert M. Crutchfield, of Tanner, Alabama.
The interview of Mr. Gil Crutchfield was handled by Jerry Barksdale. Crutchfield gave an account of his days before, the day of, and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Crutchfield was a rifleman in the 25th Wolfhound Division, guarding a vital railroad bridge when he woke to the sound of shells exploding on December 7th, 1941. He had just sent his weapon the day before for repairs, so he hastened to the supply tent where he found a shotgun and 5 shells.
Mr. Crutchfield still has a quick wit when he commented, “I could have done pretty good if they were dropping birds on us.”
After the attack, Gil would be one of four soldiers assigned to spend 10 months guarding the military governor where he stayed at the palace in Hawaii. His division was then sent to Guadalcanal to relieve the Marines after they had thwarted attempts by the Japanese to overtake the island.
He retired in 1958 after serving in the Korean War as a first Lieutenant.
Gil said he enlisted in the Army in 1938 to make more of himself than a 50 cent per week salary…and he certainly did. We sadly lost Mr. Crutchfield when he passed away at age 90, on April 13, 2011.
I’d like to thank all of our military personnel for your service and dedication to our country. These are just two stories of the thousands who took it upon themselves to fight for our country, for our way of life, our freedom.
I am so proud to honor you and share your stories on this day of infamy so others have a little better understanding of how life was and could still be.
By: Teresa Todd, Athens-Limestone County Tourism President