© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Florida WWII Vet Recognized At 75th Anniversary Ceremony

Photos of WWII veteran Neal McCallum at 93 and as a young man in the Marines.
The 75th Commemoration Of The End Of WWII
Marine Corps veteran Neal McCallum, now 93, turned 18 while serving in the Pacific during World War II.

Marine Corps veteran Neal McCallum, 93, could not attend the official ceremony commemorating the nation's victory in the Pacific because of COVID-19 concerns, but he and others were recognized virtually.

Throughout this month the nation is commemorating the 75th anniversary of World War II ending with official ceremonies that were mandated by Congress.

The United States' victory in Europe is the focus of events in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25. And last week, a ceremony in Hawaii paid tribute to victory in the Pacific.

Seffner resident Neal McCallum, 93 was supposed to go to Hawaii for the ceremony, where classic World War II planes flew over the USS Missouri battleship in Pearl Harbor, military bands performed and guest speakers like Defense Secretary Mark Esper thanked veterans for their service.

But because of the coronavirus, only Hawaii residents were allowed to attend in person, so McCallum and others were honored virtually.

“It’s because of your selfless service and your sacrifice that we live in peace and prosperity today, and it is your legacy that inspires us in our efforts to uphold the freedoms and values for which you so nobly fought,” Esper told the small crowd of vets in attendance and the larger crowd streaming the ceremony from their homes.

McCallum fought in the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest in the Pacific war. He was only 18.

The Marine Corps veteran described the environment as a “hellish place,” dangerous not just because of the presence of enemy forces but the prevalence of diseases like malaria. He can still recall the sights and sounds of Japanese kamikaze planes attacking from overhead each night.

McCallum was shot in the leg during battle and was eventually sent back to the U.S. to recover. It was there that he later learned the war had ended.

"We did what the American people expected us to do,” said McCallum, who was awarded a Purple Heart but is modest about his sacrifice.

“If we're heroes, we're all heroes,” he said of veterans who survived the war. “But the real heroes are the ones who never came back."

McCallum said it's critical to preserve the history of World War II so future generations can learn from it.

“I don't think war should be celebrated, or we should crow about winning the war or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just how dangerously close we came to losing our freedoms.”

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.