Friends and strangers help D-Day vet return to scene of heroism

At 94 years old, D-Day veteran Sherwin Callander of Madison, Ala., has kept a flirtatious sense of humor through a life of unexpected adventure.

“I wasn’t drafted. I volunteered and went in,” said Callander, who joined the U.S. Navy in 1938. “Of course, when I went in, the only thing I was thinking about was a girl in every port. But I got a surprise!”

While at sea, Callander witnessed the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and landed on Utah Beach on D-Day.

But while preparing to return to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, this American hero ran into a problem. Born in Canada to an American mother and Scottish father, Callander lacked proper documents to prove his citizenship for a U.S. passport.

“There was a law that said… you could only receive citizenship through your father,” explained Elaine Oakes, Callander’s granddaughter. “But then that was changed in 1994 — retroactively.”

Hearing of Callander’s plight, officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services expedited paperwork declaring him an American since birth.

“He’s a real hero,” said Joseph Kernan, deputy district director of the USCIS office in Atlanta. “We’re really humbled and privileged to have served him today.”

On Monday, Callander took the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America along with two young immigrants who currently serve in the U.S. military.

One of the service members told the veteran, “It’s been an honor standing next to you, sir.”

“It’s an honor standing next to both of you,” Callander replied. “We need young people like you to keep this country free.”

Callander kissed his new certificate of citizenship and, later that day, hugged the woman who presented him with his passport. That evening, he was on a flight to France with his granddaughter.

Their trip was funded by more than $10,000 in donations from more than 250 individuals, most of them complete strangers.

“It’s just awesome that that many people who don’t know me from Adam pitched in and helped one way or another,” Callander said.

The D-Day veteran joked that when he arrived in France, he planned to “hug every girl I can see.” But he said what he looked forward to most was visiting and praying over the graves of friends and fellow servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“You become real close buddies in the service because you have to look after each other,” Callander said. “And when you lose them, it’s like losing one of the family.”