Alabama WWII survivors return to Normandy for 75th D-Day anniversary — ‘My prayers were answered’
Two Alabama World War II veterans were among the group of survivors who returned to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of that legendary D-Day invasion on Thursday.
George Mills, 98, of Decatur and Sherwin Callander, 99, of Madison were featured on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday, a day before the historic anniversary.
Mills, who arrived at Normandy more than 20 days after D-Day itself, said that none of his training could have prepared him for what he witnessed.
“All your training, your time on the rifle range, all your obstacle courses and your amphibious training and jungle-fighting training, cliff-scaling training — you think you’re Superman,” he told CBS. “Until you’re fronted and then you realize you’re the hunter just like you’re the hunted.”
Callander was one of the first men to arrive at Utah Beach.
“I prayed every time I ever heard the bullets or bombs flashing,” he reminisced. “I’d say, dear Lord, I know you have to kill some of us. Kill me if you have to, but please do not send me home a cripple. And my prayers were answered.”
“They say we’re heroes, but we’re not heroes,” Callander added. “We had a job to do and we did it. We simply did the best of our abilities. We weren’t brave. We were scared. When you’re scared, you do almost anything.”
Mills later became a prisoner of war at the hands of the Nazis until he was liberated in 1945. His story has been told in recent years by multiple local Alabama publications, including The Redstone Rocket, and Mills was even officially highlighted in an exclusive article by the U.S. Army.
While being presented the Wounded Warrior honor last year at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post by the the Cullman Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, Mills shared that, amid the adversity of the war, “a Bible his mother had given him nourished his and other soldiers’ souls even as many lost nearly half their body weight from hunger,” The Cullman Times reported.
“My mother sent me a little New Testament — the kind that had a metal backing on the cover. She told me to wear that over my heart,” he said. “I did. What’s so important about that New Testament is that, while I was a prisoner we all would take turns reading that New Testament to help take our minds off being hungry.”
Mills is a recipient of the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Battle of the Bulge ribbon.
“Freedom is not free,” he told WAAY. “They tell me I’m the hero and a celebrity, but us that came back are not the heroes or celebrities. The ones we left there are the heroes and celebrities. I had a job to do and I did it.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn