Claude Leon Callegary

Claude Leon Callegary ( )

Claude L. Callegary, a retired Baltimore lawyer and World War II veteran who advised five U.S. presidents on veterans' affairs, died June 3 of respiratory failure at the Loch Raven Veterans Administration Living and Rehabilitation Center. He was 92.

"Claude was a valued adviser as a founding member of my Veterans Advisory Board," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. "As a veteran, advocate and Marylander, he was a true patriot who always valued service over self."

"He was just a superb national head of Disabled American Veterans for a few years, and that concern continued throughout his life. He was just a terrific guy and had a lot of concern for the people he represented," said former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. "He had a wonderful sense of humor, and it was an occasion to just sit and talk with him. It was just great being in his presence."

The son of Ernest Callegary, an Italian immigrant barber, and Alice DeBussieres Callegary, a homemaker, Claude Leon Callegary was born at home in the 2400 block of Lauretta Ave. in West Baltimore.

The 1929 stock market crash and subsequent Depression financially ravaged Mr. Callegary's family, and by the mid-1930s, he was forced to leave the old Cathedral School after completing the seventh grade.

"His family lost their home. Claude went to work at the age of 13 to support his family at the cotton mills and later worked 12-hour days in a Baltimore distillery for just a dollar a day," said a daughter, Ellen A. Callegary, a partner in the Baltimore law firm of Callegary & Steedman.

"He also worked as a plumber's helper and a truck driver for the Martha Washington Candy Co., but all along, his great desire was to become a lawyer," said Ms. Callegary, who lives in Hamilton.

Mr. Callegary was 18 when he enlisted in the Army in 1940. By 1942, he was in combat as a young sergeant in charge of communications in the Aleutian Islands. He later returned to the U.S. as an air cadet and was assigned to the 5th Air Force in New Guinea and the South Pacific.

While serving with the 333rd Airborne, 5th Air Force, he participated in the Philippines campaign in 1944. In September of that year, his transport plane was shot down over the small island of Biak. Mr. Callegary was one of three survivors of the 14-man crew.

He suffered serious burns over most of his body and a fractured skull, and was unconscious for two weeks. Damage to an arm nearly resulted in an amputation.

While being evacuated from Biak to New Guinea for further treatment, the hospital plane he was aboard crashed upon landing.

"It was terrifying," Mr. Callegary wrote. "We could see the plane was too low and did a bounce landing. I was on a stretcher. We were thrown all over the place. We were upside down and did not know where anybody was."

After his medical condition stabilized, Mr. Callegary was too terrified to fly and was transported back to the U.S. aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterey. He spent four months recuperating at an Army Air Forces convalescent hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.

While in Army Air Forces hospitals, he earned his General Educational Development certificate, and after being discharged in 1945, enrolled at the University of Maryland. After two years, he transferred to the University of Maryland School of law, where he earned his degree in 1949. After passing the bar, he established a general law practice on St. Paul Place.

In 1952, his brother, Raymond E. Callegary, who died earlier this year, joined the practice that became Callegary & Callegary.

Maryland Administrative Law Judge Mary Shock was working as Mr. Callegary's secretary when he urged her to get her law degree.

"I was in my 30s, had a family, and he urged me to go to law school, and once I was there, he became my mentor. He took me to court, depositions, bar association functions, and introduced me around. He was very generous with his time and knowledge," said Judge Shock.

"He was very proud to be a lawyer in the American legal system, where he thought the powerless were equal with the powerful," she said.

His wartime injuries led to a lifetime interest in veterans' affairs, and he rose to become state commander of the Disabled American Veterans. In 1965, he was elected national commander of the organization.

That year, he was also named Maryland Veteran of the Year.