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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Monrovia Weekly / Like a fish out of water, Monrovia veteran dives into history project

Like a fish out of water, Monrovia veteran dives into history project

Monrovia Navy veteran Joe Callahan
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As one of the youngest certified scuba instructors at 18-years of age, Monrovia resident Joseph Callahan knew that water was to play a huge roll in his life.

Callahan, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam from February 1972 until November of that same year, recently penned a book about that extraordinary journey, “1972: My War Story.” Callahan has donated all proceeds of the book the Veterans Resource Center at the Monrovia Public Library.

Enlisting in 1971, Callahan had hopes of training as a Navy Seal but ultimately became a highly qualified specialist in the diving field thanks to the BUD/S program which is a 24-week training course that develops the SEAL candidates’ mental and physical stamina and leadership skills. Each BUD/S phase includes timed physical condition tests, with the time requirements becoming more demanding each week.

Monrovia Navy veteran Joe Callahan
Callahan at boot camp. | Photo courtesy of Joe Callahan

Although Callahan didn’t complete the course, he wanted to serve. He went to Army boot camp and soon realized that the Navy would be a far better choice for his particular diving skills.

Telling command staff that he didn’t want to be a killer — “I want to be a diver,” he explained — Callahan’s destiny began in the deep waters off Vietnam.

As Callahan recalls, “From my perspective off the coast of Vietnam during that year, it was obvious that Vietnamization — turning the war over to the forces of South Vietnam — was not going well. The Navy and Air Force were more heavily involved in support of South Vietnamese forces than ever before. American casualties of our air and sea forces increased and it was obvious that South Vietnam could not survive without our support.”

During his service, Callahan had to endure the massive weight of the old school diving outfits, approximately 160 pounds, and the tasks to which he was assigned.

Now working on his second book, Callahan literally and figuratively dived into another project to give back to his community, the Veterans History Project on video for the Library of Congress.

First Class Diving School graduation
First Class Diving School graduation. | Photo courtesy of Joe Callahan

He became particularly interested in a project that was ongoing, interviewing former members of the armed services and filming their experiences for posterity. Veterans Resource Center Director Mabel Cross at the Monrovia Public Library was spearheading the project and Callahan was eager to once again enlist, albeit this time stateside at the library.

Having some background in media, having worked for Paramount Pictures, Callahan worked closely with Cross on the project. Deeply wanting to work with nonprofits, Callahan appeared tailor made for the job.

Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000 as part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Its mission is to “collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”

With six videos already on the Monrovia Public Library Veterans Project YouTube channel and submitted to the Library of Congress, Callahan is ready to get rolling again after a pandemic-imposed hiatus.

After years of being under water —he taught commercial diving in Willington in addition to serving as a Navy diver — he found time to get his head above water and tutor veterans as they meander life’s challenges, post military service. He volunteers as an adult literacy tutor and is a veterans resource benefit coach at the Monrovia Public Library.

Just as Callahan was getting into the swing of things, the pandemic abruptly put his story telling productions on hold. The library closed, everything closed.

Now, as the restrictions ease, Callahan is hopeful to jump-start his part of the project as soon as August, potentially.

To learn more about the Monrovia Public Library’s participation in this project or to share your story, contact Mabel Cross at (626) 256-8294 or e-mail mcross@ci.monrovia.ca.us.

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