He survived Pearl Harbor and D-Day

Pearl Harbor
U.S.S. Arizona survivor Louis Conter salutes the remembrance wall of the U.S.S. Arizona during a memorial service for the 73rd anniversary of the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl harbor on December 07, 2014 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
| Credit: Kent Nishimura / Getty Images

Today, on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 96-year-old Sherwin Callander of Madison, Ala., will take out the flag that flew over the U.S.S. Arizona—the one he keeps neatly folded in plastic—and salute it.

Callander is a veteran of both Pearl Harbor and the D-Day invasion of Normandy. He was given the flag that once flew over the Arizona, which has since been turned into a memorial, during an October visit to the site.

It still pains him to recall the day that catapulted the U.S. into World War II. "I can't bring that back to my mind, it was so horrible," Callander said in an interview with AL.com.

At the time, Callander was commissioned on the U.S.S. Wright, which was called in to assist after the surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Afterwards, Callander volunteered for amphibious training, and became part of the force that invaded Normandy.

Callander has the unique honor of being the only known survivor of both Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Normandy living in northern Alabama, and one of very few left in the country—titles that have earned him a few perks. In October, a group called Forever Young Senior Vets funded a trip that took him back to Pearl Harbor, where he went on helicopter tour of the Arizona. He is the oldest person ever to take that ride.

Though he enjoys the attention, Callander doesn't consider himself a hero.

"I was trained to do a job, I had a job to do and I did it," he says. And as for what we can take away from the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he offers this: "We need military. We've got to protect our freedom."